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4 artists, 24 artworks: MKF Museum of Art exhibition questions rapid urbanisation

Titled ‘One Foot Forward,’ this provocative showcase addresses the challenges of urban life. Here are some highlights and creative insights.

4 artists, 24 artworks: MKF Museum of Art exhibition questions rapid urbanisation

Saturday June 01, 2024 , 7 min Read

Launched in 2014, PhotoSparks is a weekly feature from YourStory, with photographs that celebrate the spirit of creativity and innovation. In the earlier 775 posts, we featured an art festival, cartoon gallery. world music festivaltelecom expomillets fair, climate change expo, wildlife conference, startup festival, Diwali rangoli, and jazz festival.

Bengaluru’s MKF Museum of Art is showcasing a thought-provoking exhibition titled One Foot Forward, portraying the challenges of rapid urban development. It features the works of four artists of Karnataka: Hemant Kumar, Nandesha S, Rani Rekha, and Venugopal VG.


“There is a yearning for success and opportunities that is apparent in the expanse dotted with towering buildings – and yet a yearning for the peace and simplicity that was left behind in a rural background,” artist-curator Shirley Mathew tells YourStory.

Urbanites may enjoy sojourns in nature and the experience of quietude, but also crave to go back to the pulse and noise of city life. “I have wondered how an artist would express that feeling,” she describes.

Mathew has been planning this show for a year, and identified four artists who were interested in visualising her message. Given the compact size of the gallery room, they also agreed to create all works in the same size: one foot by one foot with two-inch edges, without frames.

She remarks: “This was a challenge as they are used to creating large works!”


Shirley Mathew

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“Art is my passion and I love to support artists who are genuine and have their own styles. Art should have ‘soul’ and one should not paint mainly to sell,” Mathew explains.

“As long as artists are excited with my concepts and love to work for the project, then I feel I am on the right track,” she says, describing what success would mean for her as a curator. She also goes the extra mile to sell or buy their artworks.

“As an artist, it means a lot when artists and curators come to see my creativity with curiosity. I feel blessed that I have received advice and perspectives from three great masters: Yusuf Arakkal, JMS Mani and Milind Nayak,” she says with pride.

“They were my good friends. Sadly, they are no more and have left behind a legacy,” she adds.


“The owner of MKF Museum of Art, Manjushree Khaitan, has also sadly passed away. She was a great patron of art. The art fraternity has been left with a void that cannot be filled. Her magnanimity and interest have been appreciated by a range of artists,” she says.

“Art is a journey into your inner world, offering insights and clarity while providing a therapeutic escape,” award-winning artist and wildlife photographer Hemant Kumar explains.

Art allows reflection on and expression of real-world perceptions. “It reveals the intricate connections between your inner self and the environment around you,” he adds.


Hemant Kumar

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He works in the IT industry, which allows him to stay at the forefront of technology and explore new tools and techniques. “I have participated in group shows and solo exhibitions over the past 20 years,” he recalls.

“The core of my artistic practice has always been the consistent exploration of nature through photography, painting and sketching. These mediums are deeply woven into my creative process,” Kumar says.

His photographs have been published in National Geographic and other national and international magazines. “This experience has been incredibly rewarding. However, for me, the true reward lies in the thrill of discovery – finding rare species is an accomplishment in itself,” he says.


For the exhibition, he addressed the growing disconnect between humans and nature in the face of rapid urbanisation. “As a wildlife photographer and artist, I feel this separation acutely. Each of my featured artworks is a diptych, a two-part exploration of this theme,” he explains.

One side features a gleaming geometric shape adorned with intricate gold leaf depicting natural elements. “It symbolises the materialistic and fleeting nature of urban life, a constant pursuit in the city's relentless race,” Kumar describes.

The contrasting side, with its raw matte finish, represents the natural world that is being lost. “Its deep red colour evokes the urgency of this issue: the destruction of the very environment that sustains us,” he adds.

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“Through these contrasting presentations, I invite viewers to contemplate the importance of reconnecting with nature, especially within the urban landscape,” he says. The compact artworks are pieced at Rs 25,000 each.

Art enthusiasts and individuals from diverse backgrounds found themselves engaged by his works. “The inclusion of recognisable bird species facilitated a connection with the concept, allowing viewers to readily grasp the message and appreciate the artistic approach,” Kumar says.

Artist Rani Rekha hails from a family of hereditary court painters of the Mysore and Vijayanagar kingdoms. Her artworks in this exhibition highlight challenges that must be addressed to protect the planet.


Rani Rekha

“Rapid urbanisation has led to a concrete jungle, with tightly-sealed roads preventing rainwater from replenishing the land. Skyscrapers emit waves of heat, and the skies are perpetually obscured by smoke,” she says, describing her work titled Grey Wherever Now.

“Grey, colourless, lifeless—this hue dominates the cityscape. Where once green prevailed, grey now reigns supreme. The roads, buildings, flyovers, even the birds and the sky itself, are all engulfed by this dull shade,” Rekha laments.

Another mixed media work is titled Terrific Traffic. “Like a spider, constantly repairing its web, people are always striving to mend and navigate through entanglements,” she describes.

“The web of destiny and morality intertwines with the bustling life and network of connections within the city. This complex web comprises multiple spatial, social and economic factors that often lead down a negative path, trapping individuals within its confines,” she explains.

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Trends and appreciation

As trends in Indian art, Mathew points to the rise of sustainability as a theme and method. This includes using natural or recycled mediums.

“The art market is flourishing, with more and more art events popping up in cities. These events often take place in public spaces, making art more accessible to everyone,” Kumar observes.

“The abundance of online art resources is connecting the dots between common people and artists, bridging the gap between appreciation and experience,” he adds. There is of course room more for growth.


The artists and curator call for more art appreciation in society. “Art should be introduced in all schools, colleges and offices,” Mathew advises.

She tries to include this message in her conversations with all visitors to the MKF Museum of Art.

Artists are dependent on the goodwill of patrons of art. “It is an incentive to their ability when they are appreciated and there are sales. Art should be kept alive with art festivals, shows and talks,” she adds.


Tips and advice

Mathew and Kumar also offer tips for aspiring artists. “Paint to create awareness, paint with sincerity to the craft, paint not to get fame. Your destiny will carve a path,” Mathew affirms.

The artistic journey is full of ups and downs. “Mistakes and failures are some of the best teachers,” Kumar observes.

“Every work experience offers lessons, and failures, in particular, can teach valuable life lessons. Therefore, mistakes are actually a part of your growth. After all, every job or task leaves some room for improvement,” Kumar says.

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“Embrace exploration, experiment with new techniques, and hone your skills. By diversifying your artistic approach, you can create not just stunning pieces, but also a sustainable income stream that fuels your creative journey,” he adds.

“Art is boundless! Don't limit yourself to traditional mediums,” Kumar signs off.

Now what have you done today to pause in your busy schedule and harness your creative side for a better world?


(All photographs were taken by Madanmohan Rao on location at the exhibition.)


Edited by Megha Reddy