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Vivan Sundaram

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1943, Simla, Himanchal Pradesh, India
Lives and works in New Delhi

Vivan Sundaram is a highly prolific artist known to brilliantly infuse the traditional with the contemporary in his artworks. Political motivations form his thematic concerns along with a lifelong fascination with his aunt Amrita Sher-gil. He has a knack for exaggerating and experimenting with his choice of materials in a grandiose manner to prove a point.



Post Diploma from Slade School of Fine Art, London


Bachelor of Fine Arts, Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India

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He employs elaboration and exaggeration to make a societal point

Sundaram's recent ensemble rehearses the discursive construction of the city-as-waste, by representing an urban whole, through elaborate and exaggeratingly ordered arrangements of garbage. Working collaboratively with waste-pickers associated with the non-governmental organization Chintan, which is an environmental and research action group based in New Delhi. The artist sorts, re-assembles, re-arranges and scales the found-objects of trash into detailed models of a monumental urban landscape. Through a close reading of its formal aspects, the entry examines trash's reflection on logics of planned obsolescence which governs both the work as well as fantasies of economic nationalism premised on dualistic images of the notions of a mega-city.

Vivan Sundaram, She-Revan : Xrays, 2010-2011, from GAGAWAKA: Making Strange, photography

Amrita Shergill is a strong element in his works

Sundaram's photomontage "Re-take of Amrita" was showcased at landmark exhibitions titled "Amrita Sher-Gil" at the Haus der Kunst, Munich, and the Tate Modern, London. The artist brought to the table a series of manipulated photographs of his late aunt, Amrita Sher-Gil clicked by Umrao Singh (Sher-Gil's father and Sundaram's grandfather), the artist complicated issues of preexisting artistic agency and familial relationships and history. The series employed the concept of the archive, and drew also on The Sher-Gil Archive, which Sundaram had created in 1995-6. In 2007, Sundaram exhibited his Retake series, along with his other works that drew in his aunt thematically.

Vivan Sundaram, Artist with Bride's Toilet, 2001, from Re-take of Amrita, 15 x 13”.

Sundaram's work revolves around the personal and political

Vivan Sundaram's art comes from his deep interest in the political and a strong attachment to the personal. He developed a style of political commentary on contemporary politics with radical frontline views, mostly stemming from his politically active years as a student in MS University, Baroda and later at the Slade School, London.

Sundaram participated in the landmark exhibition "Place for People" in Bombay and Delhi in 1981, the force for which germinated during the Artists' Workshops he had organized in Kasauli in the late 1970s.

Vivan Sundaram, The Orientalist, 1987,soft pastel on paper, 63 x 96 cm.

Infuses the traditional with the contemporary to create a strong dialogue

His next was "Riverscape" (1992-93) that engaged traditional materials like charcoal on paper alongside industrial products like engine oil and steel, fashioning three-dimensional eulogies to a fast deteriorating ecology.

Sundaram's seminal installation "Memorial" (1993), came as a strong reaction to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in December 1992 and the violent aftermath that gripped several cities.

The "House/Boat" (1994), narrated the pattern of the migratory, wherein one flies away from one's home, suggesting also a dialectic between monumental construction and detailed craftsmanship. The artist's attempts to delve deeper to understand and explore the politics of 'home', culminated in his solo exhibition "Shelter", showcased in 1999. He represented complex and disputed issues through the medium of a Bunk-Bed, metaphorically using the structure to consider issues of sleep, desire, and sexuality.

Vivan Sundaram, Sailboat and resting oar against tent, 1992.

Vivan Sundaram, Burial, 1993, Iron, nails,black and white photographs, 48 x 60 x 30”.