Vivan Sundaram

Article Bio Works Projects
ecology, rebellion
Film (experimental film)
Performing Arts (installation)
Visual Arts (painting, photography)
Asia, Southern and Central
created on:
July 14, 2003
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since September 22, 2003. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
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Vivan Sundaram
© Wahidur Rahman Khandkar Czhoton


Historic portrait of India

Vivan Sundaram is one of India´s leading artists, witnessing political and historic processes of his country. Sundaram is a conceptual artist, working with installation, photo, film and painting.
Vivan Sundaram is capable of combining the classic with the modern, the traditional with the fresh, which makes his exhibitions actual and relevant in an Asian context.

Vivan Sundaram´s pictures are based on his grandfather´s material from the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 20th century. He mixes this historical material digitally with others of the grandfather´s negatives and own modern pictures. Sundara is also closely related with Amrita Sher-Gil, who is India´s greatest painter.

Through the digital process is created new photographs, which have their own freshness and strength. It appears to be an ideal mixture of classical Indian history and modern art. Not only because Amrita today appears to be one of the greatest figures in Indian art, but the grandfather Umrao Singh was also pioneer for modern photography in the country - apart from being an outstanding aristocrat.

Vivan Sundaram is an artist who has been consistent in his pursuit of a politically honed art.

During the early 1970s, he was actively involved with the student movement, and worked with activists. This activism later manifested in his involvement with the work of the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat), of which he is a founder member and trustee.

A keen organiser, he initiated the Kasauli Art Centre in 1976, which has hosted numerous national and international arts workshops and theatre productions.

Sundaram´s major output of paintings through the 1980s marks his involvement with a historically conscious figuration. One of the interesting dimensions of his work is the excavation of the historical through the painting.

Often the historical also manifests as the personal in a situation of asserting a Third World identity and a position of solidarity with the exploited and the working classes. Sundaram´s political consciousness has always seized upon the topical, upon the question that needs to be asked. The Gulf War of 1991 occasioned a series of works in engine oil and charcoal on paper.

Though the use of unconventional media is not new to Sundaram, this series may be seen as being special in the move towards a more conceptually-oriented practice, that from then onwards, operates increasingly in three, and then four dimensions.

In thematic terms, Sundaram´s recent work remains concerned with social and environmental protest, and with an ´archaeology´ of the recent past. In terms of practice his interests in the apositional interventions of Dada and Surrealism. As well as such tendencies as Fluxus has led him to constantly reinterpret the role of the artist and the values of authorship and creativity, giving his recent work a strong conceptual content.

Several of his recent projects involving the use of photographs, found objects, video and three-dimensional constructs in a variety of materials, are expressly collaborative. His role here becomes that of the arranger, the conductor, and a curator in a quasi-archaeological dig that probes identities in the contemporary international context.

Some of his recent exhibitions have had the appearance of meticulously presented mini-museums, each one geared to the expression of a set of conceptual meanings that are coded into every detail of the organized space.
Author: Karin Bergquist


Vivan Sundaram lives and works in New Delhi, where he is a Visiting Professor at the Jamia Milia Islamia University.

1943: Vivan Sundaram was born in Simla, India.

1961-65: BA in painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda

1966-68: Post-Diploma from the Slade School, London.

In 1966 he held his first solo exhibition in New Delhi and has had numerous solo exhibitions in New Delhi, Baroda, Bombay, Calcutta, Bangalore, Madras, London, Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

Important group shows include Group Exhibition, New Delhi (1974), Pictorial Space, New Delhi (1977), Six who declined to show in the Triennale, New Delhi (1978), Place for People, Bombay (1981), Contemporary Indian Art, Festival of India, London (1982), the Second and Fourth Biennale, Havana (1987 and 1991), A Critical Difference: Contemporary Art from India, UK (1993), Rivers cape, Four International Artist Residencies, Cleveland, UK (1993), the Second Asia-Pacific Triennale of Contemporary Art, Brisbane (1996).


The table is laid

Exhibition / Installation,
Configura 11, Germany. Wood, glass bowl, milk, straw matting. Earthenware with curd, leaf plates with rice.

Re-Take of Amirita

Exhibition / Installation,
Vivan Sundarams "Re-Take of Amirita"; is a strongly moving experience - also if one should lack the knowledge of Vivan Sundarams family history. The pictures appear clearly manipulating with "transparent" persons, surrealist tableaues - especially when mixed up with different times.

Great Indian Bazaar

Exhibition / Installation,
Exhibition showed at galleries in Amsterdam, New Delhi and Bangalore

House from House

Exhibition / Installation,
Boat installation, Montreal Handmade paper, steel, glass video 78x78x78

Gateway from Memorial Exhibition

Tin Trunk, Neon Light, Enamel Paint. 91x86x33


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

Images of Asia

(08 August 03 - 26 September 03)