What is Contemporary…

by Ekatmata Sharma
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Art Alive Gallery brings a new series, called ‘Contemporary Idioms’ that focuses at the young talent emerging out of contemporary art scene in India. The first edition ‘What is Contemporary…’ looks at young artists who strive to present works that showcase the shifting landscape of contemporary art in India. A tête-à-tête with artists Purvai Rai, Suman Chandra and Divya Singh gives an insight into their contemplative art works.

Contemporary Idioms’ define the cusp of the contemporary, with regard to aesthetic, conceptual and political concerns. The focus of the show is on how these three artists have been instrumenting media and material in non-traditional ways towards conceptual ends. Their works are particularly significant for the close affinity that their process maintains with the subject of their works. From a diverse range of concerns including socio-political, spiritual and personal preoccupations, the artists provide a glimpse into what is contemporary in Indian art today.

Purvai Rai

What are you exhibiting?

My project is a conversation about identity and how identity is kind of unified based on what is fed to us by social media and influencers. Another important question that I am looking at is the impact of the production of textile in the environment today. From the raw material initially being cotton and silk to synthetic fibers. My entire project is looking at different aspects of life and identity that textile captures. Through this project I am focusing on my relationship with textiles in terms of how it’s passed on in my family and my relationship with my father.


Elaborate on your works

I have 16 works on display. In the black and white photography works when one looks closer into the images, one can see how I have used pen in etchings to highlight the textures fabrics create. My childhood has been very deeply influenced by images and how images capture memories, so that is what I am trying to bring back into textiles.

In my weaving works I have used 3 basic textile materials – red yarn, jute and white yarn. I have used jute because I have a very tactile memory of my childhood my father used to wear this cape like thing called the Labadaa. It was made of sheep wool of unprocessed yarn so it had a very rough texture. I couldn’t find that fabric so I used jute as symbol of that texture. My sister and I used to hide inside it and used to take our faces out because the texture used to irritate our faces. That’s the memory I am taking forward. The works are about my personal identity, my experience and about the memory I carry with textiles.

Use of textiles in your works

The focus is on textiles as textile has become a medium over the years through which I create art. I chose textile, because it has a story of how you reach a garment. There is raw material which becomes a thread, thread becomes a fabric and the fabric becomes a garment. There is such a long narrative in itself, that the process is actually a layer of stories. That’s what my project looks at that how clothing captures stories and what are these stories and memories that are within these garments fabrics. Whether it’s political, spiritual or cultural?

Over the years my father being a photographer a question about memory that I raised was that how much of your memory is actually yours and how much of it is kind of somebody else’s memory that you have absorbed. So over the years seeing my works on mother Teresa, Bhopal Gas Tragedy and all for me and my sister it was like we know these people or we have been kind of experience of my father leaving to shoot for Bhopal gas tragedy but the memory feels so real, because the pictures are so real. So photography became a very important aspect of questioning memory that how much of you is actually you. Over the years my father being a photographer, both a question about memory was that how much of your memory is yours and how much of it is somebody else’s memory.

Suman Chandra

What are you exhibiting?

I am showcasing 12 works consisting of one big painting, ten drawings and one sculpture. I am basically working on a project on coal mines since four years. My works are an extension of my project about coal mine landscapes, how they look visually and the process of extracting coal.

Mediums used on the works

In the 6ft x 12ft painting I have used landscape site specific material like coal, coal dust, mud and brick dust. Brick dust is used because there are brick factories that run because of coal mines. I have used the material directly on the canvas. The pen and pencil graph on the canvas is inspired from the engineering process of mining.

Why coal mines?

Coal mines have very interesting landscapes, unlike other landscapes, in mines, the continuous shifting and changing is happening in different layers within the earth and it is caused more by humans than nature. These man-made impressions left behind on this landscape create an ever-changing interplay of positive and negative spaces. I have tried to depict this phenomenon in his works by dividing a given space in black and white.

Divya Singh

What are you exhibiting?

I have two big paintings, few images and text. The paintings showcased here are predominantly in one colour.


Use of single colour

I don’t make paintings that are predominantly a single colour. But the painting in the show is more like a memory to me. So to hold on to its feeling of it being a memory, I added a colour that something might remind a person of the colour sepia.

Thought-process behind the dark-coloured paintings

For me the experience of being out at night, of being awake and of having that freedom of being the only person with a vision to see the night, for me that vision has the impact on how I perceive reality. The sense of freedom that it gives is a very dystopian kind of freedom where you are the only person seeing it. So, that kind of expanse, that kind of meditative freedom that is shrouded in darkness but at the same time is guided by light. The moments of vision are actually moments of light. To be able to look at something and forget yourself in a way that is what darkness does and that is what through these paintings I am trying to show what I see.

Artistic process

These paintings are guided by light. When I start a painting there is usually an under painting, which is like a rough sketch. The painting when it starts to take form, it starts to decide for itself where it needs more weight, which is where I put a certain colour. So, according to its visual character I assign it a certain kind of lightness. So there is a constant play between heavy and light and dark and bright and that navigates my sense of colour.

The exhibition continues till September 15th, 2019 at Art Alive Gallery, S – 221, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi.

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