Global Atelier – New Delhi, India

By Steven Wyld, Project Coordinator, VCA and MCM

As I fly into Indira Gandhi airport, it strikes me that it’s been twenty years since I was here last. I recall memories of staying in the chaos of Parharganj; oppressive heat, chai wallahs serving tea next to open-air urinals, cows arbitrarily sleeping in the middle of the road as rickshaws carefully made their way around the holy beasts, countless shops seemingly pl

aced on top of each other…and of course the endless beggars.

This time my destination is the nearby Connaught Place – the heart of New Delhi. And as I drive to my hotel I can tell that Delhi has changed. The streets are free from bovine and general debris, traffic moves more orderly, there are new large buildings, a diversity of local and European cars…and they have McDonalds (always a litmus test of any sophisticated civilisation). One can tell that wealth has come to India…but not for all.

I’m here to document the adventures of the VCA and MCM Global Atelier program, starting with visual art students from the School of Art. 2014 will see nine groups of students from the Faculty engage in international exchanges and discover through those journeys an artistic world beyond the shores of Australia.

India is not only rich in history, religion, language, architecture, food and culture…but is also challenging China as a dominant global financial power. It is a land of contradictions where the divide between rich and poor is constantly evident and on display, where the architecture is as magnificent and degraded as any extreme can be and where opportunity for its people is complicated and challenging. It is with this backdrop that these five visual arts students from the VCA, led by Dr Kate Daw, have experienced the exciting and dynamic emerging world of contemporary art in New Delhi.

The trip started with a visit to the India Art Fair 2014, an annual exhibition of contemporary art from India and around the world. There were visits to various contemporary art galleries and exhibitions including the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi where we were treated to an exhibition of Subodh Gupta’s work of sculpture pieces collected from everyday objects and bought to life through arrangement and sheen, often on a large scale.

New Delhi


The highlight for the students was the opportunity to engage with some of India’s finest contemporary artists: Gigi Scaria, Mithu Sen, Veer Munshi and Manisha Parekh. The chance to talk on an intimate level with these artists, visiting their workshops and often being invited into their homes, to discuss the histories and influences that inform these artists work on a personal level, has a potentially profound influence in helping to develop personal artistic voice. Their common experiential and political motives for creating art and becoming the artists they are lend legitimacy to a questioning and sometimes dissident voice in a new India – an India where the convergence of the traditional and modern give rise to a beyond post-modern paradox of future possibilities.

Of course if one can, any trip to India is not complete without a visit to that most iconic of mausoleums: the Taj Mahal. This magnificent building of intricate design and architecture is indicative of a culture that values art and artistic endeavor as central to its cultural identity and values. The ornate and complex façade and motif compliment splendid symmetry and topography. The Red Fort too is a marvel of mogul architecture – a perfect compliment to its next-door neighbor and a testament to the influence this civilisation still has on modern day India.

New Delhi

Other notable historic sites we visited included: Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, Old Delhi itself, Qatar Minar and the Tomb of Hussabalah. There is just so much to see and absorb in Delhi alone that you could spend months here and only just scratch the surface.

Leaving Delhi I feel invigorated at my re-acquaintance with this historically rich city. And so as much as things have changed in Delhi, much still remains the same. It has become more cosmopolitan and my impression from those that I have met is that there is a genuine desire for New Delhi – and indeed the whole of India – to shake off its ‘third world’ tag and become a player of equal standing within the contemporary world. And indeed this is evident in the rise of contemporary art as a significant cultural force in examining India’s past injustices, current ideologies and future aspirations. Poverty, among a myriad of issues around religion and politics, still remains a challenge for India. However you feel that the world’s biggest democracy is moving towards achieving its goals and the next generation will build on what has already started: a path towards political and economic prosperity.

Led by Dr Kate Daw, five visual art students were able to experience the contemporary art scene in New Delhi as part of the Faculty’s Global Atelier program. Global Atelier is made possible with the support of the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music at the University of Melbourne by the Victorian Government through Arts Victoria.

Watch the student’s experience on the Faculty of VCA&MCM Partnerships YouTube channel.

This article was first published on VCA & MCM Channel in 2015.