The rugged look and feel, the strength, and the way glass attracts light and traps it, caught the interest of artist Hemi Bawa. This artist, who started with clay before moving on to glass, travelled to the UK to master the technique. “Glass is an unforgiving medium. A little damage and it has to be thrown away. The procurement of raw material is another challenge. In India, we do not have a source for studio glass, so I have to make do with normal glass waste.
The results often vary, and temperatures have to be controlled. Technically, furnaces require three-phase electricity and therefore it has to be located within an industrial zone. There is also manpower required for physical work. One has to navigate all this to continue working,” smiles the artist, whose latest exhibition, Bodies of Light, is on view till January 15, 2021.
One of the greatest highlights of her career was her sculpture for the 1996 Olympic Games at Atlanta, commissioned by Coca-Cola, besides the Padma Shri in 2009. “Being honest to myself and my art has worked the best. When I conceptualise a sculpture, it speaks to me. I feel that it is important to find the calm inside, to progress and evolve. One cannot grow if there is chaos inside.
You have to cut out the noise. It is a beautiful world, and we have to find that beauty outside and inside us,” says the painter, sculptor, and multidisciplinary practitioner. The exhibition also features sculptures from her Lockdown series: ‘Nowhere to Go’ and ‘Clock with Topsy Turvy Time’. Bodies of Light is a compilation of artwork that provides glimpses into Bawa’s wide repertoire. It attempts to build a dialogue between different aspects of her practice comprising over five decades.
A significant series of works in cast glass—a niche and complex technique—offers the nurturing balance between contrasts. In the ongoing series, Bawa presents her spontaneous reflections on the pandemic, invoking the sense of restriction and immobility, of boundaries and shackles. She says, “I never set any limits to myself. I must do what my heart says.” Little wonder that she works across techniques—kiln glass casting that requires handling molten material, or even layered and printed glass.
Glass can appear hard and soft, strong and fragile at the same time. The complex process is a rewarding experience and one that demands patience. She elaborates, “I start adding whatever it requires—sometimes copper, sometimes images with pigments fired onto the glass. On occasion I use metallic colours; sometimes textures take the lead. It evolves as the artwork progresses. It is like a journey. I do not leave the artwork until I am satisfied with the end result.” In Bawa’s philosophical view, “the processes teach one about life itself”.
Talking about her famed Torso series, the artist says, “The Torso is a representation of a human being. Physically they may seem a little different but essentially, they reflect the same context. The current series explores the physical and conceptual experience of being locked in during these difficult and challenging times.” Her advice to younger artists? “If you really want to do something you will find a way. I did,” says the artist, who builds bridges between the physical and conceptual realms, embracing universal values with sensitivity.