When All That Is Solid Melts into Air tells the story of the momentous social and artistic transformations that unfolded in the relationship between the “modern” and the “folk” within the political and historical context of postcolonial India. The largest body of work in the exhibition comes from BAMPFA’s extraordinary collection of contemporary folk art by Mithila, Warli, and Gond artists. Modern and contemporary artists represented include Sunil Janah, Gauri Gill, Rajesh Vangad, Jagdish Swaminathan, and filmmakers Nina Paley and Amit Dutta.
Immediately following the country’s independence in 1947, India—buoyant with optimism—embarked on a course of accelerated modernization and rapid industrialization, based on the US model and implemented through Soviet-style Five-Year Plans. Almost simultaneously, artists and intellectuals—mostly of leftist persuasions—turned to folk traditions in hope that the communitarian ethos would engender an alternative discourse around postcolonial modernity. As folk practices accrued currency as a national cultural resource and gained recognition internationally, with folk artists navigating the global economies of postwar art, the forms of folk art—a widely collected, coveted commodity—became alienated from sacred cosmography. To be modern, after all, is to belong—as Marx reminds us—in a universe in which “all that is solid melts into air.”