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Artist Profile2
A Talk with Mithu Sen
“Don’t we all have a dream and desire of becoming somebody/something else than our framed/authorised/ given identity?” asks young and dynamic contemporary Indian artist Mithu Sen who has created waves with her unconventional and uncharacteristic works not only in India but internationally.

“What else could be more exciting than to explore that secret side of human nature by leveraging an 'artist's freedom’?” she asks.

Mithu Sen is already an influential and prominent figure on the contemporary Indian art scene. Working around her attention and affiliation to concerns of individual interiority and broad femininity with a touch of eroticism, this upcoming and talented artist deftly draws sexuality from diverse objects - living as well as inanimate. She does so sensitively, displaying a smart sense of political acumen laced with witticism and sarcasm. These, in fact, are the unmatched facets of her deservingly lauded artistic career.

One of India’s young, brightest and the most talented contemporary artists, multi-faceted Mithu Sen works in a diverse range of media including collage, larger sculptural projects, drawing and installation. When asked about the challenges of various media that she opts for, she says in a nonchalant tone, “I never thought it like so...never took it in such different way. Why do term these works experimental? I just go through life....so spontaneous....and yes, it attracts me.”

The artist from West Bengal who now lives and works in New Delhi displays an acute awareness of socio-political realities and makes scathing or subtle social commentaries in her work.

Mithu Sen refined her instinct for art by studying at Visva Bharti, Kala Bhavan, in Santiniketan from where she received her BA and MFA in painting and later at the Glasgow School of Art. Among her noteworthy shows are, ‘Can We Really Look Beyond the Map?’ (New Delhi, 2000); ‘Unbelongings’ (Glasgow, 2001), and ‘I Hate Pink’ (Mumbai, 2003), and a site specific installation completed as part of an artist residency, ‘It's Good to be Queen’ (Bose Pacia Artist Space, New York, 2006).

Mithu Sen has also featured in several prestigious international group shows, such as ‘Horn Please: Narratives in Contemporary Indian Art’ (Kunstmuseum, Bern, 2007) and ‘Tiger by the Tail: Videos by Indian Female Artists’ (Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, 2007). She has received many international awards like the UNESCO Ashburg Scholarship for Brazil (2005-2006), and the Charles Wallace India Trust Award in the UK (2000-2001).

For a recent exhibition of her new works showcased at Bose Pacia, NY City titled ‘Half Full: Part I’, Mithu Sen transformed the venue into a lush forest in which different versions of the artist herself posed and played. A large-scale installation, it consisted of a diverse range of media, as she is wont to do, including mixed media works on paper, photo-images and video, prompting the viewers to undertake a similar process of self-analysis.

Her new series includes nine large 'self-portraits, each of which evokes a diverse shade of her personality that the artist has constructed for herself. Why has she chosen self-portraits?

The artist mischievously remarks: “Yeah! I have the only and one reason. I do not have to go through any copyright problem!!” Then on a rather serious note, she explains, “A self cannot be isolated from its social realm. Each and every part of our life is mingled into it. Even if we try to escape it does not let us go, so we start bursting into different forms, expressions; nothing is apolitical!

According to her, the humour in the work is meant to invite the viewer to play and interact with the ideas and meanings of 'self'. By engaging with the work, the viewer is subconsciously applying my caricatures to their own lives, she elaborates, and adds, “We all run after getting an identity for ourselves and for others to not to be insecure about ourselves and others, so we make a society and identify ourselves in form of doctor, housewife, carpenter, goon, and so on. I choose one of them and pretend (to be) like that.

When the self portrait blurs into their (viewers) eyes they don’t necessarily dig into my personal lives but make a new journey relating 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 (auto)biography. I like to ridicule and then engage my viewer into it as they start a dialogue with themselves.”

The artist here pursues the idea of self and the influence of society on the development of her own personality. She explores different permutations of identity which one can build and try on, depending on desire or necessity.

Her experiences and encounters while visiting different countries and meeting several people have provided some of the artistic inputs for the installation project. The artist, often amused and surprised by others' reactions to her, has opted to translate the same into a body of work that can provoke the viewer onto new self critical tangents. She has incorporated her personal experience into it.

Summing up her thoughts, she says: "I try to provoke the viewer to question our social values: to question what we do as human beings. I use humor to reveal all the social, emotional, political, and all together fundamental aspects of identity."

For this sensitive artist, a new piece of art opens up new possibilities, new meanings, and a new realm; she becomes a part of it....nothing can be more interesting than that, Mjithu Sen quips!