Art, Politics and The Nose: William Kentridge

Eesha Patkar takes a look at one of South Africa’s foremost artists and filmmakers

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE - RETROSPECTIVE at Johannesburg Art Gallery (3 July - 23 October 2005), Exhibition Poster

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – RETROSPECTIVE at Johannesburg Art Gallery (3 July – 23 October 2005), Exhibition Poster

William Kentridge, one of South Africa’s leading artists and authorities on the subject of apartheid, has made his way to StoryLTD. For the next few weeks, we are featuring prints and posters from his art shows around the world.

Our collection of posters shows Kentridge’s continued presence in his hometown of Johannesburg where he exhibited steadily at the Goodman Gallery, but internationally as well, at Annandale Galleries in Sydney, Australia, and K20 Grabbeplatz in Düsseldorf, Germany. These are, of course, mere hints of the entire breadth of Kentridge’s achievements.

Between the mid-1970s to the late 1980s, Kentridge started and developed a reputation as a charcoal artist and printmaker. In the ’90s, he produced the first of his many animated films—Monument (1990), Sobriety, Obesity & Growing Old (1991), Felix in Exile (1994), to name a few—a series of nine films that he eventually exhibited together as the “9 Drawings for Projection.” You can find the poster for this exhibit here.

9 FILMS - WILLIAM KENTRIDGE 9 DRAWINGS FOR PROJECTION, Old Fort, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, 22 -24 March 2004, Exhibition Poster

9 FILMS – WILLIAM KENTRIDGE 9 DRAWINGS FOR PROJECTION, Old Fort, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, 22 -24 March 2004, Exhibition Poster

Among others, we also have two posters that were once part of a limited edition triptych series. The posters themselves are designs for Kentridge’s six minute short film A Lifetime of Enthusiasm that was part of the installation “Telegrams from the Nose” at the Annandale Galleries in 2008. The third one remains elusive as of now, but those intent on possessing it and completing their collection can make a quest of it.

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE - A LIFETIME OF ENTHUSIASM, Annandale Galleries Poster for Telegrams From The Nose, 11 June to 17 July, 2008.

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – A LIFETIME OF ENTHUSIASM, Annandale Galleries Poster for Telegrams From The Nose, 11 June to 17 July, 2008.

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE - A LIFETIME OF ENTHUSIASM, Annandale Galleries Poster for Telegrams From The Nose, 11 June to 17 July, 2008

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – A LIFETIME OF ENTHUSIASM, Annandale Galleries Poster for Telegrams From The Nose, 11 June to 17 July, 2008

Kentridge’s works were hardly ever standalone pieces: when he focused on a project, he created a cornucopia of art work that he abhorred to waste. It all became part of his narrative somehow, either in the original piece that he was designing it for, or a retrospective afterwards. For instance, the 2005 poster “Preparing the Flute” was designed for the exhibition celebrating Kentridge’s operatic production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte/The Magic Flute that opened earlier that year at the La Monnaie theatre in Brussels, Belgium.

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE - PREPARING THE FLUTE, The Goodman Gallery Johannesburg, South Africa, 4th June to 16th July, Exhibition Poster

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – PREPARING THE FLUTE, The Goodman Gallery Johannesburg, South Africa, 4th June to 16th July, Exhibition Poster

Likewise, with this poster designed for the 16th Sydney Biennale in 2008, featuring one of Kentridge’s famous collaborative pieces “Telegrams from the Nose.” The exhibit at Cockatoo Island, during which he worked with composer Francois Sarhan, consisted of a multi-projection film titled I Am Not Me, The Horse Is Not Mine (2008) and referred to a future production of an opera that he directed for the Metropolitan Opera of New York at the time.

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE - TELEGRAMS FROM THE NOSE, 16th Biennale of Sydney, 2008, Exhibition Poster

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – TELEGRAMS FROM THE NOSE, 16th Biennale of Sydney, 2008, Exhibition Poster

The opera, which premiered in 2010, was a re-adaptation of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1930 opera The Nose, originally borrowed from the short story by the famous Nikolai Gogol.

I first read Gogol’s The Nose sometime in 2010 myself—in tandem with Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis—both stories evoking the feeling of absurd, a genre that was particularly relevant and heavily employed in literature, theatre and arts of early 20th century, post-war Europe. Of course, Gogol wrote The Nose much earlier in 1836, to be revived by Shostakovich a century later. There have been several reappropriations of the story over time, but it has never been more consistently experimented on and beautifully explored than in the works and art of Kentridge.

Kentridge, already well-known for his politically inflected work, sought to incorporate the absurdity of The Nose into a series of palimpsestic works of art that defied any clear medium. His charcoal drawings became stop-action animated films that turned into highly interactive multimedia installations. And practically everything that he worked on during 2007 and 2010 was gearing towards the grand pièce de résistance, the final opera.

Gogol wrote The Nose, like most of his short stories (The Overcoat), as a satirical device poking fun at the egotistical excesses of Russian politics during his time. In it, a barber named Ivan Yakovlevich finds a pale nose in the bread he’s about to eat for breakfast. It belongs to Kovalyov—“Major Kovalyov” as he pompously deigns himself—a member of the Municipal Committee. Afraid to be seen with a bureaucrat’s appendage, the barber throws it off the Isaac bridge in the Neva river below. Meanwhile, the Major has just woken up without his nose attached to his face, and proceeds to spend the rest of his day trying to find it and commandeering the local police to catch it for him.

Ludicrous in narrative, yet clever in form, Gogol transforms the nose as a metaphorical and synecdochical arc to puncture the flatulent grandiose of not just the Major, but his peers and superiors as well. The value of a socially acceptable and dignified appearance, given importance through sartorial mentions of uniforms, coats, and cloaks—or lack thereof, in case of the barber—is particularly striking. The Major’s appearance is marred (“flat as a pancake”) without his nose, leaving him impotent and unable to “snub his nose” at those he encounters daily. But I find the Indian idiom “naak kat gayi”—literary translated as “nose cut off”—far more apt here. To find one’s nose (figuratively) cut off, is to be humiliated, ashamed and beaten even. Which is exactly what happens to the Major: he hides, blusters in shame and doesn’t regain his confidence until his nose is returned to its rightful place. Of course, he fails to find any humility in the process and continues in his megalomaniac ways, reaffirming the story for the satire it truly is.

During his work on the opera, Kentridge saw parallels between the politics of Russian bureaucracy and South African socio-economic politics of his own homeland. He found the Absurd as a perfect vehicle for expressing and exploring this dynamic: “(t)he extraordinary nonsense hierarchy of apartheid in South Africa made one understand the absurd not as a peripheral mistake at the edge of a society, but at the central point of construction. So the absurd always, for me, is a species of realism rather than a species of joke or fun. And that’s why one can take the joke of The Nose very seriously.”

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE - WHAT WILL COME, The Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa, 10th November to 14th Decemver 2007, Exhibition Poster

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – WHAT WILL COME, The Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa, 10th November to 14th December 2007, Exhibition Poster

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE - K20, 27 March - 31 May, 2004, Exhibition Poster

WILLIAM KENTRIDGE – K20, 27 March – 31 May, 2004, Exhibition Poster

Kentridge was a genius. Whether he was deconstructing three dimensional reality through mirrored cylinders in installations such as “What Will Come” at the Goodman gallery, or reflecting on identity and individual choices in a politically conflicted landscape as he did through his films at the K20 exhibit—at the heart of it was always the voice of an artist striving to inform, interrogate and possibly change the world.

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The World through the eyes of Mario Miranda

Lani McGuinness on prints by one of India’s most beloved cartoonists 

Mario Miranda...by Mario Miranda www.storyltd.com

Mario Miranda…by Mario Miranda
http://www.storyltd.com

If you frequent Cafe Mondegar in Colaba, with its enticing smells and animated crowds, you would perhaps agree that the cafe would not be complete without its iconic Mario Miranda cartoons sprawled across the walls. Widely recognised as one of India’s most popular and gifted cartoonists, Mario Miranda (1926 – 2011) infused a razor-sharp sense of humour in the humdrum. His work featured regularly in many noteworthy Indian newspapers, including the Times of India and the Economic Times.

StoryLTD is celebrating his life and work through four online collections, where a wide range of Mario Miranda prints and drawings are available to buy. Our Limited Edition Prints and Open Edition Prints span his travels across the United States, Europe, China and India, and also cover his interpretations of historical moments as they occurred. Works like “The Barber’s Shop” and “The Street Where I Live” wittily condense scenes that we see unfold around us, with a timely sense of humour. Not all are caricatures, however. Works such as “Colonial Portuguese Architecture” and “Street in Fontainhas” appear inspired by places where he might have been physically present.  Many of his ink and pen caricatures of office and day-today life, and politics, are compiled in our collection of Mario Miranda Originals. Some among you may recollect the Jazz Yatra festivals held between 1980 and 2003; Yatra…and all that Jazz… is a selection of pen, ink, and watercolour sketches that capture the moods of these festivals.

“The Street Where I Live” by Mario Miranda Digital print on paper

“The Street Where I Live”
Digital print on paper

“The Barber’s Shop” by Mario Miranda Digital print on paper

“The Barber’s Shop” 
Digital print on paper

“Street in Fontainhas” by Mario Miranda Digital print on paper

“Street in Fontainhas” 
Digital print on paper

“Colonial Portuguese Architecture” by Mario Miranda Digital print on paper

“Colonial Portuguese Architecture” 
Digital print on paper

Although he never received formal art training, Mario Miranda’s talent was recognised by his friends while he was studying architecture after receiving a B.A. in History. What started as a sideline to make extra money from his friends spiralled into a full-fledged career as a cartoonist. He first gained nationwide popularity through his work in The Illustrated Weekly of India. Through this and other Mumbai-based newspapers, his work grew in popularity. The five years that he lived in England allowed him to travel around Europe extensively, and his work was featured in magazines including Lilliput, Mad and Punch.

A 1980 pen and ink on paper by Mario Miranda From the collection “Mario Miranda, Originals”

A 1980 pen and ink on paper 
From the collection “Mario Miranda, Originals”

A 1970s pen and ink on paper by Mario Miranda From the collection “Mario Miranda, Originals”

A 1970s pen and ink on paper
From the collection “Mario Miranda, Originals”

\“Herbie Mann”, from the collection Yatra...And All That Jazz... Pen and ink on paper

“Herbie Mann”, from the collection Yatra…And All That Jazz… Pen and ink on paper

“Kenny Barron at the Piano”, from the collection Yatra...And All That Jazz... Watercolour, pen and ink on paper

“Kenny Barron at the Piano”, from the collection Yatra…And All That Jazz… Watercolour, pen and ink on paper

In 1974, at the invitation of the United States Information Service, Mario Miranda travelled to the United States to promote his work and meet other cartoonists, including Charles M. Shultz, the creator of the popular comic series “Peanuts”. Yet, despite all his travels, Mario Miranda retained a distinctly Indian flavour. Be it his caricatures or vignettes of the villages of his birthplace Goa and sub-Indian cultures, Miranda’s work reflects his experiences of modern India; frenetic lines and curvaceous women populate almost all his prints and paintings.

Mario Miranda has been recognised internationally with a number of solo exhibitions in many countries, including Japan, Germany, the USA, Spain and France.

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A Legend Passes Away: Mrinalini Mukherjee

Rashmi Rajgopal tries rebuilding the image of  the artist and sculptor and asks readers to add in their pieces as well

A photo of Mrinalini Mukherji by Manisha Gera Baswani

A photo of Mrinalini Mukherji by Manisha Gera Baswani

How do you create an image of someone you have never met before in your life? Instinct would drive you to read about this person, or speak with people who knew her. But if you’re looking for something more impactful, simply attend a memorial service being held for that person.

On Friday, February 6, visitors flooded the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi in remembrance of acclaimed artist and sculptor Mrinalini Mukherjee. The NGMA, currently holding a retrospective titled “Transfigurations: The Sculpture of Mrinalini Mukherjee”, held a memorial service for the artist who, aged 65, had succumbed to a prolonged lung problem last Monday. Among those who spoke fondly of her were Professor Rajeev Lochan, director of the NGMA; Peter Nagy, curator of the ongoing retrospective; critic Geeta Kapur; and some of the artist’s close friends whose messages were read out during the service. As Professor Lochan put it, “It was a tragic irony that Mrinalini was hospitalised just a day before the opening of the solo exhibition and that she could not see the impact it had made on art lovers.”

A photo of Mrinalini Mukherji by Manisha Gera Baswani

A photo of Mrinalini Mukherji by Manisha Gera Baswani

It’s possible that visitors at the memorial were drawn there owing to a deep sense of respect for the artist and her work. It’s possible that some among them were present out of curiosity and, perhaps, were in the dark about the artist. Who was Mrinalini Mukherjee? Why did she matter? What legacy did she leave behind?

For those who knew her, Mrinalini was a woman with a powerful personality, and an emblem for women artists carving their paths in the art world. Over the phone, artist Shukla Sawant spoke of how revolutionary Mrinalini was, as an artist and person. “She had an astonishing personality and lived life on her own terms. For my generation of artists, I think this is very important,” said Shukla.

Mrinalini came from a lineage of artists. Born in 1949 to the illustrious artist pair Binodebehari and Leela Mukherjee, Mrinalini did not let their success overshadow her career, and grew to become a fearless and unconventional artist. She studied painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University, Baroda (1965-1970). While there, she discovered hemp fibre and it featured frequently in her sculptures. By choosing to use this unusual medium, often dyed in vibrant shades, she imbued her works with a rare sensitivity and grace of form.

Van Raja (King of the Forest), 1991-1994, Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art Part of “Transfigurations: The Sculpture of Mrinalini Mukherjee” Courtesy: The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

Van Raja (King of the Forest), 1991-1994, Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art
Part of “Transfigurations: The Sculpture of Mrinalini Mukherjee”
Courtesy: The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

Aranyani,1996, Collection: Jhaveri Contemporary & Nature Morte Part of “Transfigurations: The Sculpture of Mrinalini Mukherjee” Courtesy: The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

Aranyani, 1996, Collection: Jhaveri Contemporary & Nature Morte
Part of “Transfigurations: The Sculpture of Mrinalini Mukherjee”
Courtesy: The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

Vruksha Nata,1991-92, Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art Part of “Transfigurations: The Sculpture of Mrinalini Mukherjee” Courtesy: The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

Vruksha Nata, 1991-92, Collection: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art
Part of “Transfigurations: The Sculpture of Mrinalini Mukherjee”
Courtesy: The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

Works like Vana Raja, Aranyani, and Vruksha Nata offer a window into the artist’s meticulous mind. With incredible attention to detail, Mrinalini has breathed into them a striking semblance to organic motifs. Every fold and contour has a restrained elegance, yet appears robust.

While hemp carried with it a certain flexibility, she also worked with ceramic and bronze. Her choice of mediums symbolised a gamut of personalities. Ceramic offers a brittle resilience, and bronze possesses a more obstinate strength in its form and nature. Mrinalini’s sculptures were sensuous: they drew from organic forms and resembled plant motifs, but also bore strong sexual undercurrents. She opened a new avenue through her choices and imparted each work with a layered personality.

Forest Flame IV, Bronze, 2009, Collection: Jhaveri Contemporary & Nature Morte Part of “Transfigurations: The Sculpture of Mrinalini Mukherjee” Courtesy: The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

Forest Flame IV, Bronze, 2009, Collection: Jhaveri Contemporary & Nature Morte
Part of “Transfigurations: The Sculpture of Mrinalini Mukherjee”
Courtesy: The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

Orange & Green, 2000, Ceramic, Collection: Jhaveri Contemporary & Nature Morte Part of “Transfigurations: The Sculpture of Mrinalini Mukherjee” Courtesy: The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

Orange & Green, 2000, Ceramic, Collection: Jhaveri Contemporary & Nature Morte
Part of “Transfigurations: The Sculpture of Mrinalini Mukherjee”
Courtesy: The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

Matrix 4, 2006, Bronze, Collection: Jhaveri Contemporary & Nature Morte Part of “Transfigurations: The Sculpture of Mrinalini Mukherjee” Courtesy: The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

Matrix 4, 2006, Bronze, Collection: Jhaveri Contemporary & Nature Morte
Part of “Transfigurations: The Sculpture of Mrinalini Mukherjee”
Courtesy: The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

Flora (light), 2000, partially glazed ceramic, Collection: Mirchandani & Steinruecke Part of “Transfigurations: The Sculpture of Mrinalini Mukherjee” Courtesy: The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

Flora (light), 2000, partially glazed ceramic, Collection: Mirchandani & Steinruecke
Part of “Transfigurations: The Sculpture of Mrinalini Mukherjee”
Courtesy: The National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi

“Transfigurations…” features some remarkable sculptures and encapsulates the legacy she has left behind. Her works are also part of many renowned collections both in India and abroad, such as the NGMA in New Delhi, Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal, the Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi, the Chandigarh State Museum, and the Tate Modern in London.

Mrinalini’s image is far from complete. If you’re reading this, do acquaint yourself with her works and add in your own pieces. We may never get close to building a complete picture – the task is too monumental. But we would be adding to a bigger, richer memory of what she aimed to show the world.

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Behind the Scenes with the Indian Art World

At the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014, Saffronart is supporting acclaimed artist Manisha Gera Baswani in her project, Artist Through the Lens, sponsored by the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. Rashmi Rajgopal speaks with Manisha on her project and its evolution.

 

On 13 December, Fort Kochi brimmed with activity as participants at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014 scuttled about, preparing for a long but exciting second day. Curated by Jitish Kallat, the second edition of the highly-acclaimed event is titled “Whorled Explorations”. It had kick-started the previous day, with chief minister Oommen Chandy inaugurating the event.

Artists from around the world have rallied to Kochi to display their talents to discerning and enthusiastic spectators, who will flock to the centuries-old port city till the end of the biennale: 29 March 2015. For artist Manisha Gera Baswani, acclaimed for her paintings and her photographs, it had been months since she began preparing for this moment. Her much anticipated project, Artist Through the Lens, had just opened at Rose Bungalow, Fort Kochi. Speaking to Manisha feels like you’re speaking to an old friend: she is warm, open and very honest about her work and herself. Over the phone, juggling between her kids and speaking about the project, she said, “It has been a lot of work. Since the past two weeks, I have been busy installing the project.”

The title, Artist Through the Lens, is self-evident: the seeds for her project were people from the art community she had known and interacted with for decades. As she puts it, “The world knows the artist primarily by his work. However, the intimacy with the work grows once the ‘person’ in the artist becomes known. Somewhere, that person ‘becomes’ the artist, ensconced in a private space and immersed in a personal expression… I decided to pick up the camera along with my paintbrush nine years ago, finding the lens suited to navigating the artistic world.” Artist Through the Lens began with exploring artists for the people they really were. It has since grown to include other members of the art world: gallerists, art critics, curators, and collectors: “Images of the art world,” as Manisha says.

A. Ramachandran, Manisha’s guru and mentor, with his wife Chameli. Says Manisha, “Introspective scrutiny and deep understanding. This is what Sir and Chameli aunty have given me for the thirty years that I have known them.”

A. Ramachandran, Manisha’s guru and mentor, with his wife Chameli. Says Manisha, “Introspective scrutiny and deep understanding. This is what Sir and Chameli aunty have given me for the thirty years that I have known them.”

In a casual Q&A session, she spoke openly about her project, her aspirations for it, and how she came to be involved in the biennale.

Your project was showcased at the India Art Fair in 2012 and earlier this year at Art Chennai 2014. Did you feel it evoked the response you were hoping for?

I was not sure what response to anticipate as I was very focussed on the set up. But once I caught my breath, I saw people glued to the images, often returning and sometimes paying a tribute with moist eyes. I could not ask for more.

Were you approached by the organisers of the Kochi Biennale to showcase your project? Was this based on previous responses to your project? 

It was a conversation with Riyas Komu at the India Art Fair last year which translated into showing this project at Kochi. Given the audience that visits the biennale, it would be a good venue to share this photographic panorama of the Indian art world with an audience beyond the Indian art community.

“I photographed Anjum at her solo exhibition at Vadehra Art Gallery in 2009. She makes a genie-like appearance from the ‘magic cup’. The background enhances her smoky silhouette, like an emerging apparition.”

“I photographed Anjum at her solo exhibition at Vadehra Art Gallery in 2009. She makes a genie-like appearance from the ‘magic cup’. The background enhances her smoky silhouette, like an emerging apparition.”

Being both a painter and a photographer, do you feel your approach to photography is different from art?

I think of myself as a spontaneous artist: I don’t plan or pre-meditate my paintings. The act of painting still allows a flexibility to pause and calibrate once the process has started.

Photography, on the other hand, requires seizing a moment that feels right. Over time, reviewing my own work has made me more prepared to recognise those moments. For example, I now also scan for shadows or reflections that compose themselves into a ready-to-click frame which I can almost see ahead of time.

What made you decide that you would like to document the art world through these ‘behind-the-scenes’ photographs?

It all started with me consciously capturing time with my teacher, Mr. A. Ramachandran, and that was essentially for myself. While we spoke about how photos of senior artists from their younger days were rare, the importance of what I was doing dawned on me. Since then, the project has acquired a larger significance and purpose for me.

 How did this idea strike you? Did you first experiment with it and develop it into what it is now as you progressed?

When I look back, I recall that my camera accompanied me everywhere. It went with me to all art openings, soirees and camps for as long as I can remember. I felt more and more driven to capture ‘behind the scenes’ images of the art world. By the time I felt ready to finally show select images from my project, it was already 8 years old. I was part of a project called Manthan, a platform centred around showcasing art and design practices. It was daunting to showcase in front of a discerning audience, several of whom well-known photographers. As it turned out, they were the most enthusiastic of viewers and motivated me to move forward even more confidently.

“I am reminded of the Wizard of Oz who puppeteered fantastic illusions – here, Bharti Kher keeps a watchful eye on the lifeless, yet lively, mannequin.”

“I am reminded of the Wizard of Oz who puppeteered fantastic illusions – here, Bharti Kher keeps a watchful eye on the lifeless, yet lively, mannequin.”

How was your idea received by the people you have photographed? How willing or reluctant were they to allow this ‘entry’ into their lives as artists, gallerists, collectors, critics, and as persons?

Since I am a practising artist myself, more often than not my entry into their spaces was that of welcome and openness. I have spent sometimes hours in an artist’s studio quietly capturing them in their surroundings. These sessions have been interspaced with wonderful conversations over lunch and tea.

Some artist friends were shy and needed cajoling. Some others may have found me a bit intrusive but they indulged me nevertheless. It all changed for everyone when Artist Through the Lens was showcased at the Indian Art Fair by Devi Art Foundation in 2012.

I was in parallel contributing to the quarterly art magazine ‘Take on Art’ via my photo essay column titled ‘Fly on the Wall’ which is now in its 14th edition. This brought another dimension for me as I was now also adding prose and poetry to the visual. This is a good example of the appreciation and support, extended by gallerist and publisher Bhavna Kakar.

As you photographed them, did anything surprise you about them or the way they worked? Any revelations?

Entering artist studios has been one of the most humbling experiences for me. These are borderless and often timeless spaces that have helped me widen my own perspective. Seeing their work process, talking to them about their techniques, and conversations about shared passions have all been enriching experiences I am grateful for.

If there was a revelation – it would be the obvious one of realising that if you are still painting, you are still learning…

“I enjoy the pose Probir Gupta strikes - like a conjurer making phantoms appear on the canvas in the background. His smile almost dares the viewer to catch a glimpse of the illusion.”

“I enjoy the pose Probir Gupta strikes – like a conjurer making phantoms appear on the canvas in the background. His smile almost dares the viewer to catch a glimpse of the illusion.”

What were your thoughts while deciding upon the angling and the composition of each shot?

I am not formally trained and not particularly disciplined about reading manuals. I simply take the camera and wait for the moment to come, and come they do.

You mention a closeness with the artists you have photographed, and this is quite apparent in the candidness of your photographs. Yet with some, there appears to be a distance – we see back views, we see the subject through slits and peepholes, we see their shadows and reflections, or we see them partially obstructed by their work. The reverence you bear for these artists is evident, but there appears to be a distance between the viewer and the subject. How would this influence perceptions about the subject?

Often I find an opportunity to create a composition which brings together the artist and their work, or their philosophy expressed via the environment. When I capture such a moment, I may zoom out the subject in perspective, but my closeness to the person remains unchanged. Examples of N. Pushpamala shot through the eye of a mask or Nataraj Sharma standing next to an industrial crane – both need the expanse which may foreshorten their image but amplify the artist in context.

Nataraj Sharma installing his work at Kala Ghoda in 2009.

Nataraj Sharma installing his work at Kala Ghoda in 2009

“Valsan Kolleri mentally navigates a path through the maze his sculpture creates. To me, it’s an allusion to an immortal contemplating on the pot that has spilt the elixir of life.”

“Valsan Kolleri mentally navigates a path through the maze his sculpture creates. To me, it’s an allusion to an immortal contemplating on the pot that has spilt the elixir of life.”

“I leapt at this composition as Ranbir Kaleka's  signature headgear seemed to appear like a rising sun over the horizon. The drowning fan seems to look up at him, imploring for a rescue.”

“I leapt at this composition as Ranbir Kaleka’s signature headgear seemed to appear like a rising sun over the horizon. The drowning fan seems to look up at him, imploring for a rescue.”

“Neelima Sheikh makes for a forlorn image: a traveller ready to leave, a writer who takes one last look at the manuscript. Somewhere, she is enveloped in the taperstry of her works, merging into all she had to say...”

“Nilima Sheikh makes for a forlorn image: a traveller ready to leave, a writer who takes one last look at the manuscript. Somewhere, she is enveloped in the taperstry of her works, merging into all she had to say…”

You’ve mentioned that this project is ongoing. You’ve already included gallerists, critics and collectors along with artists. Do you see a possibility of expanding this further?

Yes, the project started with photographing the artists in their creative spaces. The presence of the gallerist while the artist was installing the show, to the entry of the curator or the art collector turned this project to embrace a wider art community. It grew organically and I don’t want to impose any pre-conceived restrictions to image capturing. I know that I may thematically edit it when needed but the magic is in the expansion itself.

You will find that even where artists are concerned, besides traversing generations, it has transgressed boundaries and is beginning to become South Asian rather than just Indian.

 


As the biennale continues, we will bring more snippets from our ongoing conversation with Manisha. Keep watching this space for more.

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The Usual Jewellery/Silver Suspects

Eavesdropping. Prying on intimate matters. Insubordination to prevailing trends. Wooing money and hearts. And it goes on. Having maintained a low profile for decades, these pieces have suddenly emerged from their lairs and are now under trial on auction  at Saffronart. Rashmi rounds up nine of the important ones from the upcoming Online Auction of Fine Jewels and Silver

1. This Stunning Edwardian Brooch: For Rebelling and Subversion

Estimate: Rs 55,00,000 – 75,00,000

Lot 27: An Important Diamond Brooch

Lot 27: An Important Diamond Brooch

There’s no denying that the central diamond draws you to itself with brutal, hypnotic force.  And look at all those delicately designed full-cut diamonds pandering to its ego. With an air of old-world pride, the brooch reveals it’s nearly a hundred years old. “A true iconoclast,” it beams, referring to King Edward VII who, breaking free from his mother Queen Victoria’s influence, set a new path for fashion from 1901 onwards. Sure, its brethren are just like it—elegant, feminine, intricate—but this one is special, especially since it’s been in the care of an important Parsi family here in Mumbai.

  1. This Period Coin Necklace: For Its Double Identity

Estimate: Rs 10,50,000 – 12,50,000

Lot 3: A Period ‘Kasu Malai’ or Coin Necklace

Lot 3: A Period ‘Kasu Malai’ or Coin Necklace

Seated smugly under the interrogation light, it shrugs and tinkles—it’s adapted over the centuries and picked up our ways. It’s being vague about why it’s called what it is: a Kasu Malai. I assume it’s the Tamil words for ‘coin’ and ‘necklace’. “It could be, but it also could be something else,” it hints rather cryptically. “I’ve been told I’m named after a certain Sanar Kasu.” When asked who this person was, “Some tavern keeper from the Chola days who hoarded too much gold and landed in trouble for it.” How serious was it? “Got the death sentence. Apparently his last wish was that he wanted all pure gold coins to be named after him—the narcissist.”

It doesn’t end there. The malai‘s (literal) two-facedness reveals a script and a seated Balakrishna decked with cabochon rubies, making it a potent candidate.

Edit: Similar coins, showing a seated Balakrishna and a Devanagari inscription on the reverse, date back to the time of king Krishna Devaraya from the 16th century, and were known as gadyanas.

  1. This Set of Pacheli Bangles and Diamond Choker: For Monopolising a Rare Enamel

Estimates: Rs. 6,00,000 – 8,00,000 for each lot

Lots 20 and 21: A Pair of ‘Polki’ Diamond and Enamelled Pacheli Bangles and A Period ‘Polki’ Choker

Lots 20 and 21: A Pair of ‘Polki’ Diamond and Enamelled Pacheli Bangles and A Period ‘Polki’ Diamond Choker

Lot 20: A Pair of ‘Polki’ Diamond and Enamelled Pacheli Bangles

Lot 20: A Pair of ‘Polki’ Diamond and Enamelled Pacheli Bangles

Lot 21: Reverse

Lot 21: Close up of the reverse of A Period ‘Polki’ Diamond Choker

We’ve got a lot to thank the Persians for, and somewhere in that long list is the technique of enamelling. Among all the luscious shades on view is the famed Gulabi minakari or pink enamelling from Varanasi. A layer of pink paint is applied over an opaque white background, and what you most commonly see is flower buds. Just like you do over here. Pink enamelling has almost dwindled out of use now. So your chances of stumbling upon jewellery with Varanasi mina are very, very slim. These bangles and choker are part of the privileged few that get to show off their gorgeous pink enamelling. And also for the next reason….

  1. This Set of Bangles, Necklaces, Ring and Earrings: For Being Privy to Family/Political Secrets

Estimates:
Lot 20 – Rs. 6,00,000 – 8,00,000
Lot 21 – Rs. 6,00,000 – 8,00,000
Lot 22 – Rs 10,00,000 – 12,00,000
Lot 23 – Rs 1,00,000 – 1,50,000
Lot 24 – Rs 5,00,000 – 7,00,000
Lot 25 – Rs 4,00,000 – 6,00,000

Lot 22: An Impressive Pair Of Period Gemset Bracelets

Lot 22: An Impressive Pair Of Period Gemset Bracelets

Lot 23: A Period 'Thewa' Ring

Lot 23: A Period ‘Thewa’ Ring

Lot 24: A Period 'Polki' Diamond Necklace

Lot 24: A Period ‘Polki’ Diamond Necklace

Lot 25: A Pair Of Diamond 'Polki' Ear Pendants

Lot 25: A Pair Of Diamond ‘Polki’ Ear Pendants

They come from the family of one of Ahmedabad’s most influential businessmen…*drumroll*…Seth Mangaldas Girdhardas. Back in the day (sometime in the early 20th century), he oversaw a cluster of mills, was a staunch supporter of Gandhi, and founded a school for deaf and dumb children. Having been with a descendant of the Sheth, they certainly have a lot of stories to share…which they obviously won’t.

  1. This Burmese Silver Box: For Being Unabashedly Opulent in Depicting Mythology

Estimate: Rs 1,75,000 – 2,75,000

Lot 57: A Period Silver Box

Lot 57: A Period Silver Box

You’re wondering why scenes of the Ramayan swarm its cartouches. The Burmese depict their Ramayan scenes with about the same amount of flamboyance we do, but with a Thai twist to them. You spot the headdresses and see what I’m talking about. Not too long ago (1760, to be precise), Alaungpaya, a Burmese king, invaded Siam—or Thailand, as we know it—and brought back families of silversmiths to work for him. This seeped into the designs you see on the box.

….And the list of suspects goes on. Want to see them in person? Drop by our gallery between 11:00 am and 7:00 pm till October 14 (except Sunday).

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Folk And Tribal Arts of India: Part 1

Elizabeth Prendiville of Saffronart introduces the indigenous art forms of Patachitra and Jogi Art alongside illustrated lots from Storyltd’s upcoming auction of tribal and folk art

NEW YORK: On September 24th StoryLTD’s newest Absolute Auction of Folk and Tribal Art will go live with an eclectic collection of indigenous art works depicting a vast array of artistic traditions from different regions of India. These techniques represent longstanding regional narrative and customs with colourful hues, varying textures and elaborate compositions. Two techniques represented in this sale include the multi-dimensional storytelling tradition of Patachitra scroll paintings and the family rooted Jogi art.

Patachitra, originating in the Eastern Indian state of Odisha, is essentially an ornate cloth-based scroll painting. Although these colourful works have organic and humble roots they offer a wealth of narrative possibilities. “Patta” means “cloth” in Sanskrit while “chitra” means picture or painting. True to the name, layers of cotton cloth are adhered together with a natural glue product and formed into scrolls. Patachitras made of lighter paper materials are sometimes reinforced with saris to extend their life. It is essential that these scrolls remain intact as they are exhibited by traditional story tellers that travel distances and use these scrolls in their performances. The subject is often based on Ramayana or regional folklore and mythology. However, they also sometimes contain narratives from Muslim and Sufi traditions. Traditionally crafted by travelling bards, each scroll was accompanied by a song. Thus each Patachitra was experienced as a multidimensional piece, with a narrative conveyed in both visuals and music. The tradition of Patachitras continues and contemporary scrolls often convey current events or pivotal moments in recent history.

Lot 86, Jabbar Chitrakar and Unknown artist, Bengal Scroll https://www.storyltd.com/auction/item.aspx?eid=3741&lotno=86

Lot 86, Jabbar Chitrakar and Unknown artist, Bengal Scroll https://www.storyltd.com/auction/item.aspx?eid=3741&lotno=86

A fitting example of these Bengal scrolls can be seen in Lot 85 and 86 in the Absolute Auction of Folk and Tribal Art by Jabbar Chitrakar and Yamuna Chitrakar. These colourful works are made from natural pigments and shows two narratives simultaneously. The title Chitrakar, literally meaning painter, is taken on by the performers. Not formally trained in the art of painting, these chitrakars learn the traditional skills in a local setting, becoming travelling showmen who are adept in more ways in one, donning multiple roles- painters, singers, performers, storytellers.

Much like the scroll paintings of Bengal, Jogi Art has an interesting history. Ganesh Jogi, the namesake of this artistic form, performed as a musician in Rajasthan. Following the traditional professional associated with the Jogi caste, the family would wander the streets in the early hours of the morning, singing devotional songs and receiving grains, clothes and occasionally money from people. Due to changing times they had to move to the neighbouring state of Gujrat to seek a livelihood. A chance encounter with the eminent artist and anthropologist in the 1980s laid roots for the blossoming of this visual art form. Shah encouraged Ganesh and his wife Teju to draw from their hearts and imagination images that inhabit their world. Over time these illustrations became detailed and complex, a true visual delight. The current lots showcasing Jogi Art present the evolutionary and transformative potential of traditional artistic practices. They present varied themes that include village life, current events and contemporary discourses like environmentalism.

StoryLTD’s upcoming auction of folk and tribal art presents an opportunity to partake in India’s traditional visual practices, the range of artworks included in the sale are sure to peak one’s curiosity about the indigenous art genres existing in the different regions of the subcontinent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Imagine a very important religious subject. Now go back a thousand years, and think of a thousand ways of portraying three figures and a donkey. Ran out of options at #999? Not if you’re Jehangir Sabavala.

Rashmi on Jehangir Sabavala’s Flight into Egypt – I

Flight into Egypt

Lot 65: Jehangir Sabavala’s Flight into Egypt – I

On the Surface: There’s something at the bottom of the painting that looks like two human figures on an animal. Impressive interplay of light and shadow. Menacing. Reminds you of the closing scene of The Two Towers when Gollum leads Frodo and Sam to Mordor. Title says something about fleeing to Egypt, so maybe that’s what it is, though you probably don’t know who they are or why they’re fleeing to Egypt. But wait, the title of this blog post says something about it being a religious subject, so it must be…

What lies Beneath: …Joseph and Mary’s Flight into Egypt, mentioned in the Bible. They’re fleeing with baby Jesus from Bethlehem, after learning about King Herod’s plot to kill all infants in the region.  Ahhhh I see, you say. So those two—no, three figures are negotiating dangerous paths and curves in the hopes of surviving this evil king. How wonderful, it suddenly makes sense.

But no. It doesn’t end there.

Question: What, there’s more to it?

The Story Goes: So let’s go back in time some nine centuries or so *plays that groovy song by Huey Lewis and the News*.

From the Collection of the Glencairn Museum Source: http://www.glencairnmuseum.org/nativity-nonbiblical/

From the Collection of the Glencairn Museum
Source: http://www.glencairnmuseum.org/nativity-nonbiblical/

You’re in the year 1145, at the Abbey of Saint-Denis, France, and you see this lovely stain glass depiction of the Nativity. Here you witness baby Jesus in full glory, commanding a palm tree to bend so tired, hungry Mary can pluck a fruit off it. And of course, befitting of a church window, they’re both haloed.

Giotto di Bondone’s Flight into Egypt, executed as a fresco for the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy. Source: http://www.historyofpaintings.com/history-of-paintings/gothic-art.html

Giotto di Bondone’s Flight into Egypt, executed as a fresco for the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy.
Source: http://www.historyofpaintings.com/history-of-paintings/gothic-art.html

You’ve jumped ahead to 1304. You’re prowling around Giotto di Bondone and watching him complete this fresco in the Scrovengi Chapel. More haloes! You’re thinking you might tap him on the shoulder and try mentioning that you’d seen them before on a stain-glass painting you’d seen a second ago—no, 200 years ago—and that he should try out something different, but it’s probably wiser not to mention it. So you wait two years till the fresco is done. Bright colours, stern/sombre expressions, flat renderings and attractive colours. The donkey trots, no one seems to be in a hurry to flee. Perhaps they’re weary. There’s a hint of a narrative here—the figures look worried, they’re whispering to each other. But you’ve guessed the purpose of this work—its focus is on religion. The Church had an agenda, and it had the means, and its purpose was to spread Christianity. Moving ahead…

Venetian artist Vittore Carpaccio’s Flight into Egypt  Source: https://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/gg15/gg15-32.html

Venetian artist Vittore Carpaccio’s Flight into Egypt
Source: https://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/gg15/gg15-32.html

You find yourself in the year 1515. Oil paints are in. There’s definitely more depth to this painting than there was in Bondone’s, and the fabrics and figures bear closer semblance to reality. The halo isn’t bright anymore, but appears as a faint rim around Mary, Jesus and Joseph. The painting appears brighter, more positive, owing to the rich colours. The focus is still on the figures. They trudge on against a twilight sky. Coming back to the present—which you will do later—you learn that the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., suggests that “it was made for a religious confraternity”. Maybe it was just a fad in Italy, you reason. Okay, let me take you to Germany, and rewind to ten years prior.

Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut ink-on-paper of Flight into Egypt, part of the V&A collection, London Source: http://www.vam.ac.uk/users/node/2631

Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut ink-on-paper of Flight into Egypt, part of the V&A collection, London
Source: http://www.vam.ac.uk/users/node/2631

Dürer’s 1505 depiction is full of detail—crammed with it, and there is a nebulous presence of fear and urgency in the work. Mary holds Jesus on her lap, slightly slouched on the donkey. Joseph appears to be carefully turning around to check on them. Stealth and clandestineness matter here. But yes, the focus is on the figures.

Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn’s Flight into Egypt Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Flight_into_Egypt_(Rembrandt,_1627)

Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn’s Flight into Egypt
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Flight_into_Egypt_(Rembrandt,_1627)

You’re now in 1627, the age of Baroque/Dutch splendour. You’re viewing Rembrandt’s version, with the light dramatically falling on the three figures assuming centre stage. It looks like a scene out of a play—a huge, huge turn from the preceding works. You feel like you’re in the midst of the drama, but with the focus again on the figures, you feel like they’re never shaking off the past completely.

German Romantic Carl Spitzweg’s “Die Flucht nach Ägypten” Source: Wikipedia

German Romantic Carl Spitzweg’s “Die Flucht nach Ägypten”
Source: Wikipedia

Move ahead 252 years. Soaking in the Romanticism of 1879, you see Spitzweg’s Flight into Egypt. So now it’s larger landscape + smaller figures, you observe. You’re quick at noticing how the landscape dominates the work. Joseph, Mary, Jesus and the donkey are diminished in size in comparison to the steep ravines behind and around them. Spitzweg has either captured or chosen to portray a calmer part of the flight through his shading and tinting.

Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Flight into Egypt, from the Met Museum Collection Source: http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/16947

Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Flight into Egypt, from the Met Museum Collection
Source: http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/16947

Closer to a recognisable timeline, you’re in 1923, and you stumble upon famed African-American artist Henry Tanner’s version. You quite like Tanner’s version, it’s refreshingly different in its treatment. You especially like that the figures and the path before them are illuminated by a lantern in the painting, rather than a divine source.

But before you reach any conclusion, take one final look…

Flight into Egypt

Flight into Egypt

…at Sabavala’s Flight into Egypt-I.  And you’re back in 2014.

Sabavala avoids the glory of religious icons, the vibrancy of colour, the assurance of a recognisable face. His figures aren’t wasting time. They’re on the move, working their way carefully around towering ranges, riding to a distant land. You understand how dangerous this mission is. You feel it in his clever use of angular forms, his use of greys and browns to convey the mood. All that initial enamour you shared for colour, light, beauty have you second-guessing. Sure, they’re present here, but their function is so different. Here, the trio are in mortal danger. Their concerns are very much human, and you can feel a bond with them.

 

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A drive down the French countryside would yield this…if you were in the 1950s…and if you were S.H. Raza

Rashmi Rajgopal picks Raza’s Terre Jaune from the upcoming September Modern Evening Sale.

Lot 20: Terre Jaune

Lot 20: S. H. Raza’s Terre Jaune

On the Surface: Can identify houses, choc-a-bloc. They’re sandwiched between yellow—possibly some kind of field—and a deep blue sky. Nice use of primary colours there. Colour appears in swatches. It appears to be almost emotive.

What Lies Beneath: A countryside? The French countryside. Specifically, central and southern France, perhaps Carcassonne or Provence, which he mentions while referring to the countryside. What’s the yellow bit? Could be either poppy or sunflower fields. The choc-a-bloc homes? Typical of French villages.

Question: How can you be so sure it’s not just any countryside?

The Story Goes:  Many, many decades ago—1949, to be precise, Raza set sail for more artistic pastures. Paris called, with its thriving art scene and multiple art movements fast gaining in momentum. It wasn’t just that. On a trip to Kashmir a year prior, Raza had bumped into Henri Cartier-Bresson. Bresson’s advice to him was something like, “Well, you’ve got talent, but you need to pay more attention to how to ‘construct’ a painting. Why don’t you take a gander at Matisse, Cezanne and co.?” Those words stayed with him, and that’s precisely what he did while at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts. But what did Bresson mean by ‘construct’ a painting? Put very simply, he had asked Raza to look more closely at why artists did what they did, and how they went about it. Think of it as building something: you lay a solid foundation, then you erect the outer skeleton, then you fill in the gaps to create the final structure and voila!

Of course, education is incomplete if you don’t throw in some travelling for good measure. Raza did just that—travelled around, imbibed as much as he could from what he observed. But it was the French countryside that he took a strong liking to. So it kept cropping up in his paintings, and Terre Jaune is one of those beautifully made scapes.

Sunflowers in Provence Courtesy: shelovesglam.com

Sunflowers in Provence
Courtesy: shelovesglam.com

Haut Rhin, France Courtesy: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/

Haut Rhin, France
Courtesy: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/

Then, after a period of “I’m going to construct gorgeous landscapes”, Raza segued into a more “I’m going to spontaneously and emotively create gorgeous landscapes”. Why? Partly because that was the trend doing the rounds at the time, and partly because he kind of ‘evolved’ to this phase. A trip to University of California, Berkeley, pushed him towards it after he encountered Rothko, Hoffman and others.

Or you could also look at it as mastering a particular technique, and then, after year of working in it, deciding that it’s easy; it’s perhaps got some limitations, and it’s time to move on to another way of looking at things.

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When you see a painting and don’t know what it is, you look…

behindthepicture

If you were in our gallery earlier this month, ambling about with an all-knowing smile plastered across your face to mask the “Hmm, this is interesting, but I don’t get it and the catalogue is a bit dense to bother reading” tumult your mind was going through, this is it. Starting today, we’re picking some of the most exciting lots from our upcoming live auction and giving you crisp, palatable snippets about them. Perhaps now you’ll reach out to them and invite them for a chat over tea and biscuits.

But we know it’s all subjective, and you have your favourites. Don’t see them here? Leave a Facebook comment or write to us, and we’ll try to cover a few more—very, very briefly—on our blog.

We’ll be updating this space with all posts in the series, so be sure not to miss out on any!

1. A possible drive down the French countryside would yield this….if you were in the 1950s…and if you were S.H. Raza

2. Imagine a very important religious subject. Now go back a thousand years or so, and think of a thousand ways of portraying three figures and a donkey. Ran out of options at #999? Not if you’re Jehangir Sabavala.

 

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On Art, Design and more…A tête-à-tête with Meera Sethi

Josheen Oberoi chats with Meera Sethi about identities, processes and her forthcoming projects

New York:  Meera Sethi is a Toronto based artist of Indian origin. With a graphics design background and an artist’s curiosity.  Meera’s art straddles many worlds; fine art and design, Indian and diaspora. Her work has been featured widely in publications like Vogue India, CNNgo and MTV Desi. Some of her works are now available  on StoryLTD.

Her recent work has tackled complex questions about identity and migration with pictorially vivid imagery. She makes these questions accessible through her visual images in ways that allow us viewers to engage and celebrate them. As an admirer of her work, I was very happy to have an opportunity to learn more about her art. In our conversation below, Meera Sethi will trace the contours of her life as an artist and tell us how she creates her vibrant body of work.

Meera Sethi

Meera Sethi

Q: Meera, let’s start with the question of how your engagement with art began.

A: Although art was always my favourite subject growing up, I never planned to be an artist. I entered university interested in cultural studies, anti-colonial and feminist studies. I followed this through by completing a BFA in Art Theory and a Master’s in Interdisciplinary (Cultural) Studies. However, during my entire academic education, I was quietly working away as a self-taught graphic designer, accepting occasional freelance design projects.

Little did I realize at the time that it was the making of imagery, as opposed to its study, that would emerge as my passion. After graduate school, I went from working as an arts researcher, to being employed as a graphic designer, to eventually working full-time for myself as a freelance designer and now a visual artist. My life as a professional artist began unexpectedly after I spontaneously embarked on what was to become my first and most influential series – Firangi Rang Barangi - in the evenings after returning home from my 9-5 day job. What I saw surprised me: I had a natural inclination to combine colour with form.

Q: Where do you feel you are, as an artist, and what has brought you here?  

Meera Sethi in the studio

Meera Sethi in the studio

A: It’s certainly been a journey. Now, when I look back at some of my earliest drawings and sketches, I see an interest in portraiture and depicting clothing. In fact, the only surviving artwork I have from when I was a child is a self-portrait done at age 5, in which I have attempted with much detail to convey the texture, colour and pattern of my plaid dress. When I rediscovered this drawing, I was shocked to see the similarity in my choice of subject 30 years on! Today, I find myself drawn to the cultural, political and spiritual lives of diasporic South Asians and the hybridity of our identities as expressed

 

Meera Sethi, Self-Portrait, Age 5

Meera Sethi, Self-Portrait, Age 5

Q: That is an interesting point because your work appears to function at the intersections of art and design to a great extent. Could you tell us about your approach and process?

A: I tend to look at things through the lens of design. What I mean by this is that I look at work for its aesthetic appeal and function before I enter the deeper meaning it conveys. I tend to use this approach in the making of my own work where I am as much concerned with the beauty and the function as I am with the story it is telling. I think this comes from my long history as a graphic designer who never fully fit into the art world. Not to discredit the important conversations happening within artistic communities, but I would still rather pick up a Creative Review or Eye than an ArtReview or Frieze. At the same time, I make art, not design. My work is not solving a problem or responding to a client brief. There is of course sometimes a fine line between the two disciplines. I am most comfortable on this edge. My research for new projects increasingly involves a combination of reading popular and academic articles, looking at art, design and craft sources, and meditating.

"Intersections" in progress

“Intersections” in progress

Q: You have also worked with large scale formats like murals. Please tell us about the work.

A: In late 2013, I completed my first large-scale public outdoor mural. It is a massive 44 feet x 39 feet wall-painting called “Intersections” that commemorates the cultural, social and political intersections made by LGBTQ South Asian communities in Canada. It’s a giant celebration of our organizing and partying, our identities, diversity and presence. The mural itself references Rabari mirrorwork from Rajasthan as a symbol of the unifying power of incredibly diverse South Asian textile traditions.

"Intersections" in progress

“Intersections” in progress

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intersections, Church Street Mural

Intersections, Church Street Mural

Studio

Studio

Q: Along with the large scale format, you actively work with prints and creating two different scales of the same visual images. Could you speak to that choice a little bit?

A: Much of my work is quite large in format, making the work difficult to transport and higher in cost. At the same time, the quality of line, colour and form in my work is quite even and sharp, so it translates well into a print medium. I like to make high quality, limited edition small-size prints available of some pieces as a matter of accessibility. In my mind, a simple but important intention is to have my work inspire the hearts and lives of others. To have my art seen by multiple people in daily life is one way to do this. Perhaps, indebted again to design, before making work, I often imagine it in someone’s home, where it makes a small but consistent impact on everyday life decisions by inviting a sense of beauty and joy.

Q: Tell us what comes next. Are you working on new projects?

A: I am in the process of working on three different projects. The most immediate is a new series of acrylic paintings on canvas called “On the Margins of the Divine” that look to Mughal miniature albums as a starting point. Next, is an international, collaborative performance art piece called “Unstitched” that takes a sari and creates a line of community and continuity among 108 people. And lastly, a two-part photography and mixed-media painting project called “Upping the Aunty” that celebrates our elders and their fabulousness!

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