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A spotlight on Mithu Sen: The 2010- 11 Skoda Prize winner
It was a proud moment for Mithu Sen receiving the Skoda Prize for 2010-11 from internationally celebrated sculptor of Indian origin Anish Kapoor, at a lavish ceremony last month. The young and talented artist turned emotional for a moment and called up her husband to share the glory and also her parents who had come specially to attend the very special occasion. Kiran Subbaiah and Balasubramaniam Alwar were also in contention for the award. The nominees were selected by an illustrious five-member jury, comprising the likes of Dr Kavita Singh, associate professor, School of Arts & Aesthetics, JNU; Rajshree Pathy, a renowned art collector and founder of Contemplate Art Gallery in Coimbatore; and the director of INTACH, Tasneem Mehta.

Mithu Sen was bestowed the prestigious award worth Rs 1 million and a trophy. Anish Kapoor, while congratulating the winner quipped, “It’s not that artists are heroes, but sometimes we can do heroic things. Doing outstanding work is one of them.” And that’s exactly what she invariably does. Her award-winning work on paper, entitled ‘Black Candy’ with the added - rather curious tag-line ‘iforgotmypenisathome’- is a sarcastic take on male sexuality and its psychic anxieties. Incidentally, Mumbai based Chemould Prescott Road hosted a suite of her works on paper and intermediate installations, entitled ‘Black Candy’, in February- March 2010. Building on her known artistic concerns of sexuality, intimacy and identity, the artist focused on the male psyche and gaze in this particular series. Composed of humorous, unusual, silly, serious, violent, and rather bizarre sound bites, they simultaneously complemented and complicated the narratives.

‘Black Candy’ was a continuation and further elaboration on the approaches of her earlier projects, which employed self portraiture, text or sound as a conceptual and thematic element. A curatorial essay elaborated: “Though aware that her perspective is necessarily feminine, she retains her ability to read and represent men in play; she projects her observations and access point as a woman onto her subjects with characteristic wit and subversion. The images form a multitude of narratives on maleness and difference, and enable her to explore alternate dimensions and expressions of her drawing practice and the limits of autobiography.”

Considered one of the most dynamic and innovative art practitioners of her generation, Mithu Sen stands for the new wave of talent in contemporary Indian art. Born in 1971 in West Bengal, she completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree (painting) from Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan, and later, joined the Glasgow School of Art for a postgraduate program on the Charles Wallace India Trust Scholarship in 2000-01. Among her most recent solos are 'Nothing Lost in Translation', Nature Morte, Berlin (2010); 'Me Two', Krinzinger Project, Vienna; and 'Dropping Gold’, Suzie Q Projects, Zurich. Among the prominent group shows she has featured in 2010-11 include 'Against All Odds, LKA, New Delhi; 'The Pill', Latitude 28, Delhi; 'Myth - Reality', The Guild, Mumbai; 'Public Enemy Number 1', Exhibit 320, Delhi; 'At The Edge', Gallery Maya, London; 'Indian (Sub)Way', Vadehra (Delhi, London); 'Dialogues' and 'Eye of India, Bartha & Senarclens Partners, Singapore; 'The Evolution of the Species', Institute of Contemporary Indian Art (ICIA), Mumbai. Her work also formed part of 'India Xianzai: Contemporary Indian Art', at Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Shanghai courtesy ICIA in 2009.

Apart from the Skoda Prize, she has received YFLO(FICCI) Young Achievers Award (2008); Kunstmuseum Bern Residency, Switzerland (2007); Bose Pacia Artist in Residence, New York (2006); UNESCO Ashburg Scholarship for Brazil (2005-06); Lijang Studio Residency, Yunnan, China (2005); Khoj International Artists Residency, Delhi (2003); Junior Fellowship from Union Ministry of HRD (2000), and AIFACS Award, Delhi (1998).

The multi-faceted artist puts to use a wide range of media, such as sculptural projects, drawing, collage, objects, video works, and installation. Her drawings often extend into installation and other mediums in order to explore the elision of audio- visual experiences. The artist maintains a consistent interest in using text, image, and concept through a combination of which, her work let viewers construct their own narratives on the subjects considered often private, through the complicity of their viewing as well as interactions with the images and other elements. Her pieces reflect an acute awareness of many styles and sources apart from the politics of borrowing.

Viewers can experience stories and sounds, which connect to the drawings, developing an experimental new format. The artist wants them to question prevailing societal values. The viewer is compelled to relate to her works at a personal level, through self-analysis of their own identity. According to her, this is also meant to prompt them to play with the ideas and meanings of 'self', as she explores different permutations of identity which one can build and try on, depending on desire or necessity. Engaged in general issue of gender in postmodernism and with the subjective experience of sexuality and fragile femininity in post-emancipation, her visual narrative is often autobiographical.

For example, her ‘Myth U’ showcased as part of ‘Myth – Reality: Constructing Cult-u're’ at the Mumbai based Guild Gallery, is a self portrait. It suggests ‘how friends/people like to read/see/write/call me...though it is funny but it has an inner psychology that drives’s how people spell/ed my name...’, as she puts it. “When the self portrait blurs into the viewers’ eyes, they don’t necessarily dig into my personal lives; they rather make a new journey relating (to) their own life, perspectives, and they put their own portrait into that void and become that very subject into that whole event. It becomes their own (auto)biography.”

Subtle sprinkling of humor adds a light-hearted touch to her artistic quest to examine the political, social and fundamental aspects of our identity. The playful and serious images that she often depict of the intimate lives of men form the core of large-scale drawings, accompanied by sound installations. In essence, Mithu Sen studies the different possibilities we harbor of self-perception and the way our identity and development is influenced of society. There is a notion of deconstructing the old to bring in the new…