Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Queen of Sheba The Singapore Sidewalk, an interview with Kavita Issar Batra

I recently had a chat with Kavita Issar Batra about Queen of Sheba: The  Singapore Sidewalk. Kavita is an Indo-British artist, for whom Singapore has been home for the past seven years. She studied art with Ruth Perez in London, James Holdsworth and David Kelly in Singapore. Her oeuvre spans oil, acrylic, mixed media paintings, installation and photography. She has collectors in Singapore, India, Dubai, Europe, Uk, US and Australia.  Below is the gist of our conversation.

Joyotee:        Congratulations Kavita. Within a span of 9 months you have rolled out your second solo and a huge body of works. Do tell us a little about the making of Queen Of Sheba?
Kavita:          The body of work represented in this exhibition started in late 2012. I found my gaze being drawn to a whole new world underfoot on the pavements, while out walking each morning in the neighbourhood we had moved into.  I started to record my daily observations with my phone camera for myself and share with friends through Facebook.  This then expanded into the Morning Walk Montage page to allow a wider community to engage as also on Instagram.  This has been an almost daily practice for over three and a half years, no matter where in the world I find myself. It is an art practice in itself but also the inspiration behind my paintings and print making. 
End September early October 2015, I had the first solo exhibition of paintings, I had been working on over a three year period, inspired by the detritus I collect and observe, “Of Time, the Elements and their Essence” also held at Intersections Gallery, Singapore.  Following on from this, the gallery was keen to share the Morning walk montage practice that underpins my creative processes with a wider audience .  I too wished to share ‘my discoveries’ with a wider audience, especially of Singaporeans, an alternative view of this island that is now my home and muse.   This led to this current exhibition.
‘Queen of Sheba, The Singapore Sidewalk’ showcases some of the Morning walk montage photographs along with the musings I put up on Facebook. They have been blown up into limited editions, Museum quality photographic prints.  I have also been working on some monotype prints using acrylic paint and the bits of detritus, adding another point of conversation into the exploration of and to give voice to this often ignored and trampled on ‘world’. Each of these montypes is unique and cannot be recreated.  The final piece in the show is an  abstract, oversize (160 x 500 cm), mixed media canvas my ‘Ode to the Singapore Sidewalk’ that has provided so much inspiration to me. It is my muse. 
 My book ’Of Time, the Elements and their Essence’ 2015 which contains highlights of the montages from over the three years along with illustrations of how they inform my paintings is also available. As is the ‘book in the box’ titled ’Queen of Sheba, The Singapore Sidewalk’ this is 48 of the montages in a loose sheaf of postcard style cards. Most mornings my husband, our canine companion, Bella and I walk for an hour or so around the streets of our neighbourhood we try different routes and so this format allows you to also walk among the montages as you please. At weekends we walk to and in the Singapore Botanic gardens, a number of montages are from there too. Both books have been designed and set by very imaginatively by Brian Loke and printed in Singapore by a local firm.  They are available at SS50 each, from the gallery.

J:                    Tell us a little about the title of the show?
K:                The title comes from a game I remember playing with my Mother as a young child.  We would have to walk to most places in the Indian Himalayan hill station I grew up in and to keep me amused my mother would be the Queen of Sheba requiring me to forage for various things along the way like a black stone or two red leaves and so on. Working on a book, to accompany the exhibition last year, I wondered if my penchant for detritus stems from those long forgotten childhood games. While now, I do not set out to ‘find’, as it is a more spontaneous process. I do not pluck or alter the pieces I am drawn too. Sometimes, I do collect and bring bits back to my studio and photograph the montage against whatever painting I am working on at the time. I only use an iphone camera to allow this spontaneity as I never know when or where something will catch my eye.

J:                    Your process is unique and it’s the observers eye that goes and picks her subjects and her inspirations on her morning walks. So when do you feel that Kavita starts emerging from all of this?
K:                The individual leaves, tree bark fragments, withering flowers, fruits and seeds, their shapes, textures, colours are beautiful in themselves and better than studying text books. At other times accidental juxtapositions reflect patterns of the macrocosm. The miscellaneous remnants of our built up and industrial environment also fascinate – the anthropomorphic line drawing qualities in curiously twisted bits of wire, the feel of rusted metal bits too parallel the more organic parts of our landscape. The pavements and surfaces are a canvas for these but increasingly evocative in themselves. It is the interplay of time, the elements and the essence of each individual piece that has me hooked. I see metaphors for my own mid-life stage in the way this interplay takes place. It has changed the way I ‘see’ the world around me. Often time a thought, a quote, a line of a song some reference will pop in my head and becomes the thought to accompany the montage. My life experience obviously colours how I look at what I see.

J:                 Singapore while known for its green patches is also doing away with a lot of its greenery to meet the urban needs. How do you see your work speaking of the times we live in?
K:                    When I first came to Singapore seven years ago, I was captivated by the majestic trees that line so many of the roads. Singapore is growing vertically at a bewildering rate, glass and concrete towering over the tree line.  The building work happens with minimum disruption, when it is finished grown trees and mature lawn appear - our city in a garden. The primary forest that covered Singapore is just a smidgeon now even the secondary forest cover is shrinking. Yet left untended or untamed in this climate, nature is quick to reclaim the land.  The ‘city’ looks after ‘the garden’, the detritus swept away and recycled as compost but before that happens time, the elements and their own essence only determine how these bits die and decompose. The only thing certain from the moment we are born is that we will die. The specifics of when and how remain unknown. By slowing down our frenetic pace of ‘life’ becoming more aware of our surroundings, observing natural processes around us, we can all become more mindful about our own way of living, how we treat other inhabitants of this planet we call ‘ours’ and hopefully nurture rather than negate this earth that sustains us all.

J:                  You have a niche here and galleries love working with artists who have found that. Yet in your last collection we saw more of paintings and in this we see a huge mix of mediums. So how was it received a) by the gallery b) viewer.
K:                Marie and Louise at Intersections have been amazingly supportive and have walked alongside me in this creative journey. They see the importance of understanding the whole of an artist’s practice not just what makes commercial sense and for that I am very grateful. In todays world - the information onslaught, instant gratification culture, the need to make a living and livelihood – so many demands on our time. However, we also must claw back that space to just stop for a moment, allow thoughts and ideas to mingle and spark debate and to enrich our emotional and spiritual sides
It is very gratifying and humbling that so many people who come into the gallery feel a natural affinity to what they see in my art works especially in the installations of the detritus I have collected. Being able to connect with people of different ages, ethnicities and life experience is extremely satisfying.

J:               You use your images to catalogue your finds and juxtapose those against some painted surfaces created by you. These have been captured by your mobile. As an artist who uses photography as her mediums, I have to ask you, Why your mobile and not a more serious camera to do the same?
K:                I never know when I may come across something that will catch my eye and so I continue to use my iphone camera to record my finds and take photographs. The resolution is excellent and as you see in the exhibition the results when printed are amazing.

J:                At any point do you feel you are actually moving out these subjects from their natural environment to make something what you see as your creation? Has this process seemed too contrived and contrary to process of being an observer?
K:             People connect with the montages because there is a freshness to them which wouldn’t be there if they were contrived. I do not feel I ‘create’ the montages I see my role more as a facilitator, a note taker and interpreter perhaps. It’s a bit like the tv programme ‘Britain’s got Talent’ or any such show, I give these bits of detritus the stage to be the star on.
J:                   Kavita thank you for taking the time to answer these questions? While I know you have told me that your journey enfolds along the way, could we get a privy to what we can expect from the sidewalks.
K:                    Joyotee thank you for taking time to go beyond the visual at the exhibition and in terms of my process. I never set out to make the detritus on the ground my muse. Art has always been important to me, even while I worked in HR at University  and in the NHS in the UK , as a mother to two young children. Since moving to Singapore it has become a way of life. As to what next, I follow the flow from within.

Friends and art lovers do go and catch the exhibition, Queen of Sheba: The Singapore Sidewalk, showing now to 28th of August at the, Intersections Gallery 34 Kandahar Street Singapore 198892. Also available at the Gallery are the books , Of Time, the Elements and their Essence priced at $50 and the book in a box  Queen of Sheba, The Singapore Sidewalk also priced at $50 only.

Artists talk by Kavita Issar Batra, on Queen of Sheba- The Singapore Sidewalk, is at 11am on the 14 August 2016 (Sunday) Please register with the gallery

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