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Review: 'Bring Me a Lion' is one of the year's best

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 8, 2010 - "Bring Me a Lion" at Webster University's Cecille R. Hunt Gallery is unlike anything St. Louis has ever seen: an exhibit of contemporary Indian art that rivals comparable recent shows internationally in both its depth and breadth. It was organized by Dana Turkovic and Jeffrey Hughes, who deserve an enormous amount of credit for going beyond obvious space and budget limitations to craft what is certainly one of the best exhibits we'll see all year.

Most St. Louisans won't have heard of these artists, but that makes the exhibit all the more tantalizing and, ultimately, rewarding. Jaishri Abichandani's "Allah hu Akbar" (2008), made of sparkly whips, brings together concepts of celebration, self-flagellation and commodification that characterize a multitude of world cultures.

The digital C-prints by Chitra Ganesh explore overlapping terrains of sexuality and mythology. "Onomatopoeia (The Scar Park)" (2005) by Jitish Kallat is an extraordinary photo-conceptual exploration of collateral damage, class values and the evidently universal obsession with cars.

Tushar Joag is represented by two works, a video and a series of photos, that relate to his "Looking for Flora" project, which stages public art interventions to explore the startling effects of dislocated historical monuments.

The list goes on and on; in fact, it will probably take more than one visit to fully grasp the roster of ideas these artists serve up.

A side note to the good administrators of Webster University: There's another show of contemporary Indian art called "The Empire Strikes Back," currently on view at a little place called the Saatchi Gallery in London, England. Though smaller, "Bring Me a Lion" is comparable to that show. Turkovic and Hughes have created an extraordinary opportunity for students -- and the general public -- to engage in international culture and global debates.

Doesn't it make sense to provide them with the resources -- a better gallery space, more financial and staff support -- to match their ambition and their skills, and to carry out projects such as this, which are in full keeping with the university's mission and core values? Just a thought.

Ivy Cooper, a professor of art at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, is the Beacon's art critic.