Eclectic would perhaps be the best adjective to describe Delhi-based artist Manisha Gera Baswani’s art practice. A postgraduate in Fine Arts from the Jamia Millia Islamia University, she received a French Government scholarship to study in Paris in 1991. On her return from Paris, while she created works which were inspired by Indian miniatures and Buddhist murals, her portrayal of popular Hollywood icons like James Bond and Elvis Presley showed her equal comfort with a global sensibility.
An avid photographer, who has been appreciated widely for her intimate photographs of fellow artists working in their own creative spaces, Baswani is a versatile artist who has worked in various mediums — canvas, wasli sheets and shikishi board. Be it insects, galaxies, pop icons or ancient Indian murals, they have all found a place on her canvas.
In her latest art outing at Gallery Espace in New Delhi, titled ‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’, Baswani shows works which are inspired by heritage, especially by her visits to Mandu, Jaisalmer, Jerusalem and Egypt between 2007 and 2009.
She says, “Nature has been the primal force for my works. It had been confined into tight parameters and insets in my earlier works but in the current tea water series in the show, I have let nature flow to regally become all-pervading.”
The works inspired by her trips to Mandu take us through the landscapes of Mandu hills in the heat of summer and a journey through the river Narmada. For Baswani, experiences are created episodically — threaded together by a language, personalised through memories, beliefs and values. Her works are reflective of distinct phases of her life, each a separate chapter of an ongoing odyssey.
The works done in the last two years, amongst the large body of work that spans a six-year tenure, take us through one such chapter of her life where she is seen juggling the roles of a professional (artist) and a homemaker.
For instance, the work titled Pierced Comfort highlights what the multi-tasking a woman does during the day and how she still feels dissatisfied when she finally rests. The Ring is an analogy created through the symbolism of a shahtoosh shawl.
Just as the shahtoosh is best tested when it passes through a ring seamlessly, similarly a woman wants to qualify the test of the ring throughout her life.
She says, “The Path is also a work about our lives. We come with our karma (or experiences) and as we grow older, we keep adding to it, making our lives rich but also cluttered at times. Then comes the stage of editing where less becomes more. However, even as we keep editing, we are unable to shed all the baggage and then the journey continues all over again — that of adding and then removing.”
Apart from art, Baswani is actively involved in Manthan, a creative collective she co-founded three years ago, which focuses on bringing together professionals across artistic fields to share their ‘process and methodology’ with peers in the fraternity to support cross-cultural dialogue in Delhi.
(Poonam Goel is a freelance journalist who contributes articles on visual arts for unboxedwriters.com)