Space, scissors & syringes?

Contemporary artist Arpana Caur’s exhibition of works titled ‘Painting is not dead’ presents a vast and in-depth range of subjects entwined with the phenomenon and a constant called time, finds Janani Sampath

Published: 10th April 2013 08:08 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th April 2013 08:08 AM   |  A+A-


She is an artist with a diverse and prolific range of work in the field of art that have been displayed in solo shows like national and international exhibitions and art festivals, including the First Baghdad Biennale and Algiers Biennale; group shows at Saytama Museum and Glenbarra Museum, Japan; the exhibition ‘Imagined City’, Museum of Modem Art, Brasilia, Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. But  with her charm and simplicity, in spite of the fact that she is one of the foremost names in contemporary art, Arpana Caur is both unintimidating and unassuming.

“This is a solo show that I am having after 25 years,” she says, visibly emotional. ‘Painting is not dead’ is a concept she stumbled on during one of the international shows that she attended. “In this age of digital art, I was disappointed to see only five artists at the event,” she adds.

The exhibition was inaugurated on Sunday by former governor of West Bengal Gopalkrishna Gandhi amid a sea of admirers, friends and fellow artists.

Walking the reporter through her works that are on display at Gallery Veda in the city for all of next  month, Caur explains her fascination with time. “Time is a phenomenon that I am always obsessed with. I have used scissors as a representation of time in my work to denote how fate cuts the thread of life when one’s time is up,” she says, summarising the presence of scissors in all her works.

The huge canvases are adorned with paintings of the Buddha, a meditating yogini cutting off her hair and a yogi immersed in penance, standing on one leg. Enveloping a number of subjects, Caur’s works weave them together with the thread of time. With works that carry figures within another figure, she also uses space as an element in art. She says, “The concept of many figures in another is inspired by Indian traditional art. It is a feature in Rajasthani art.”

Perhaps Caur’s work embraces topics with intensity. She represents Sita with a rekha (line) drawn around her. This time it is not Lakshmana, but Sita herself drawing it. She brings together various religions – Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism — and their philosophies. “The work Body is just a Garment is inspired by Kabir’s philosophy and the reference to the Buddha is to denote that he is beyond time,” she says.

With images of Mahatma Gandhi and revolutionaries like Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh, Caur adeptly combines several concepts and their illustrations of time. Paying an ode to the lives of workers whose invisible hands contribute to humanity, the transience of time though day and night, the artist’s expansive canvas accommodates the finest details of living.

Love Beyond Measure revisits the legend of Sohni-Mahiwal.

“There are many stories from Punjab like Heer Ranjha, but the tale of Sohni-Mahiwal is the most inspiring. Here the pot is a metaphor to show life,” she explains.

But the grandest and most thought-provoking element of her latest exhibition is the installation by Caur – a hospital bed with drips and huge syringes that inject life through paint into an ailing patient’s life.

 “I didn’t know initially if this would work as an idea, but I am amazed by the way it has turned out and the reception it has had so far in Chennai,” she signs off.

(‘Painting is not dead’ is on at Gallery Veda, 4/22, Rutland Gate, 4th Street, Nungambakkam till May 8)

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