Online Magazine
A round-up of international exhibits by prominent Indian artists
Renowned contemporary Indian artist Arpita Singh is known to create deeply and intensely personal works through a mélange of images and signs she has developed over close to five long decades of practice. Her highly intricate and multilayered paintings are often autobiographical in nature, with subtle references to myth and history, nuances of traditional art, current happenings, and traces of popular culture. She skillfully weaves such diverse elements and influences into dense and deft tapestries of personal experiences, reflections and imagination of the real world.

These facets are well evident in DC Moore’s first show of her artworks, providing an opportunity to view a carefully compiled selection seldom shown in the US before. The New York gallery specializes in contemporary and 20th-century art. Born in the state of West Bengal in 1937, the world-famous artist studied at the Department of Fine Arts, Delhi Polytechnic. She first staged an exhibition of her works in 1960 with a group of artists who termed themselves ‘The Unknown’. She designed textiles in the mid-1960s and had her first solo at Delhi’s Kunika Chemould Art Centre in 1972. Since then, her work has been widely featured in India and internationally, including the UK, Germany, France, Greece, Turkey, the Netherlands, Algeria, and Australia.

About her thought process, she has been quoted as saying, “I am a woman. I think as a woman. I see as a woman. My references are always feminine. This is the starting point.” She tends to see both tradition and culture as being keenly passed along from one woman to another, say mother to daughter, as in the ancient rituals carried out by Bengali women for the well being of their respective families. Arpita Singh’s art is informed by magnificent miniaturist painting, folk art, textiles and other elements of India’s rich visual culture. An accompanying note observes: “At the same time, she is an astute observer of modern life, in tune with the rapidly developing society in which she lives and works. Through her long involvement with the modernist art world in India, she has a unique perspective on her country’s dynamic contemporary culture. Her paintings are strong and vital, their meanings often elusive, as she evokes the wide range of human experience.”

Simultaneously, Galerie Nathalie Obadia in Paris presents a series by Mithu Sen on the eve of her first solo in France. In line with some of her most emblematic artworks, here she repeats a visual idiom very much characteristic of her sculptures and drawings: a frank femininity’s eroticism and the unveiling of an intimacy, which makes us touch uncomfortable; the inanimate objects’ reactivation in order to generate a confusion of identity – whether emotional geographical or sexual, apart from an insistence on depiction of the body as a material, organic entity and on dissection and isolation of its parts as peculiar pictorial motifs, alongside.

A curatorial note explains: “With her disturbing shadow theatre installation, she sheds light on her darkest imaginings and confronts us with her personal world: a procession of finely cut-out forms – animals, objects, bits of dismembered, disjointed bodies and nightmarish visions. As a storyteller, she confronts us with our own subconscious and takes us with a subtle dark humor on a journey of initiation into the city of Paris. By presenting us revisited pop icons of our immediate environment seen as an outsider, her installation is the critical diary of her three weeks residency in Paris.”

The shadows, fading memories as well as perceptions of the land the artist encounters, immaterial traces, layers and also fragmented parts represents a response to the blending of two different time zones : the history of her experiences, memories of the city and the present duration. Here she makes the shadow theatre profane by manipulating the effigies in her magic artifact and deceive our perceptions. With ‘Devoid’, she takes further strides in her artistic quest for abstraction, not forsaking a bit of her droll impertinence or the insubordination of her apt and precise line. ‘Bareness is the void’, she explains, ‘but a void after there has been a presence: a withdrawn existence.’ By inviting viewers to experience the immateriality of the voids of hidden light and the fullness of projected light, the artist rules out any kind of passivity and the viewer acts as a dynamic support for disseminating these shadows, and a mobile actor of these active forces.”

Meanwhile, Raqs Media Collective works have reached Boston. The Delhi-based artist collective’s works engage with urban spaces as well as global circuits, welding a edgily contemporary and sharp sense of what it persistently means to lay claim to the curious realm from the street life of Delhi. It, at the same time looks to articulate an intimately lived relationship with both myths and histories of rather diverse provenances. Their fall exhibit ‘The Great Bare Mat & Constellation’ at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum includes new works divided in two separate gallery installations. The first one features a carpet - a surface so as to stage conversations, featured at the feet of a two-fold 17th-century Japanese screen drawn from the collection of the museum.

‘The Great Bare Mat’ is inspired by two exquisite Han bronze bears in its collection, mat-weights from China, which served to weigh down carpets for debaters to sit and discuss. Woven by a team of Bulgarian weavers, the carpet flaunts a repeated motif that indexes the Great Bear’s constellation against a bewildering background of essays, conversations and signals between three PCs of the artist collective. Another installation, a press release elaborates, is a silent, looped video projection that transforms, through a series of subtle alterations, the many photographs and film stills they recorded while in residence at the museum a couple of years ago. The images of the projected video reflect onto an adjacent gallery wall, where a luminous array of shiny metal surfaces mirroring distinct narratives create a crescendo of accumulated visuals in the mind of the viewer.