Sunday, September 11, 2016

Tales From India

It is the long weekend, and I decided to feed my soul with the exhibition, Tales From India, running from the 31st of August until the 17th of September at the Miaja Gallery. The Gallery has brought together Singapore based Alpana Ahuja, Mumbai Based Aashish Singh Tyagi and Kaushik Raha of Kolkata alongside with a special collaborative project called Miaja Design and Bernard Plates.
The Gallery has a beautiful spatial feel to it with brilliant lighting and tasteful display skills. For the weekend there was also a pop up jewellery show by Iliana Arrazola. If you are going past Bukit Timah road, amidst all that hustle bustle of the traffic, it would be difficult to miss these huge colourful Chin Mudra Sculptures at the window.
Alpana, a friend and a co-artist was there to take us around and so was the ever accommodating Julian Miaja of the Miaja Gallery. The following is a gist of a conversation with them.
Julian spoke about how they have been collecting work of various artists and over the years they like working and nurturing these artists. 

Kolkata born, Kaushik Raha is one such artist, who trained from Government College of Arts and craft. Raha’s cityscapes create a correlation between his surroundings and his artistic practice. His use of colour and light are to be noted…the darker tones grounding his work are offset by an almost hopeful light that radiates from the building facades. Each artwork depicts stories told and lives lived on the streetscapes of India, framing the nuances of everyday life. Kaushik is a recipient of Camlin Art Award from Camlin Foundation; Saibal Ghosh Memorial Scholarship, and Gopal Ghosh Award and Scholarship from Government College of Art &Crafts, Kolkata, amongst others.

Kaushik’s work, brought to mind my artist friend Swaroop Sankar’s work. More on Swaroop, in another blog post.

Aashish Tyagi is quite the multi disciplinary artist and has a need to pursue public art and he explains, “We need a new social dialogue in our families and society. It is important to understand other points of view around us. Art has the ability to make you think and question.” Size intrigues him and he clearly loves the impact on us. “Anything out of context creates an internal dialogue, the mind is always trying to make sense of our situation by giving context, if you take that away, it creates disturbance and thus an urge to find meaning by creating a new or familiar context. The mind is looking for harmony but harmony is not the solution, it’s rather a state, like dusk is the harmony between night and day”.
Aashish Tyagi’s, internal dialogue results in this current body of work Gyan Mudra series, in which he puts down these tales from the Indian mythology that he grew up on. He felt an urge to design and create in collaboration with these amazing craftsmen something beautiful and meaningful, thus in his small way helped to conserve their crafts and heritage.
On asking him over email, why each of these fiber glass creations only displayed the Chin Mudrah, he replies, “The palm separates us from all living organisms, all other species use the hand or the palm for utilitarian purposes only humans use it to create amazing things like the world we have created around us. The Gyan mudra, according to the Indian hindu mythology is the most profound mudra out of the 10. It's used while meditating, it opens our mind, to the wisdom of the universe and connects us to the cosmos. The right hand is considered prime. On this mudra are stories from the Indian mythology. They express the foundation of our civilisation. The creation and the evolution, the giving up of the ego, to become one with the gods.”

His span of expressions stretches from Nudes in charcoal to films and documentaries, and apart from working with prolific director-producer Shekar Kapoor, he also has some of his works at the T2 terminal of the Mumbai International Aiport Art Project. Currently Tyagi is working on an installation for a sports academy on the outskirts of Mumbai. 

In the black walled display room apart from Kaushik Raha’s beautiful water colours are the collaborative Miaja Design + Bernadaud Plates. This is a limited edition porcelain setting, for 6 which was inspired by the bustling streets views of Mumbai, captured by Isabelle Miaja herself. The collection was designed for the Speciality restaurant at Sofitel Mumbai BKC, as part of their limited addition series. Each plate captures a moment in everyday life and how it is then extracted, frozen into a singular memory engrained in porcelain.  Julian showed me the full images from which these extractions were made. For a Mumbai girl, it spells nostalgia,  as I saw familiar scenes of a frame makers shop, to the flower and garland store, the clothesline that we grew up seeing as important installations of our cultural fabric and of course the famous Muhammed Ali Street and the antique shops.  

I had a more detailed conversation with Alpana, through whom I was informed about the current exhibition.

Joyotee: Alpana tell me a little of how your journey in art began?
Alpana:  I discovered the artist in me at 8 years of age, when I saw my mother painting at an art class she had enrolled herself in. I was so impressed by the burst of colour and technique that I started imitating her and made greeting cards by the dozens (since all I got was paper to paint on). Shortly after, I studied under teachers who guided me in the arts and developed a special liking towards watercolours during my time at the New Delhi Polytechnic. I especially remember the outdoor painting sessions at the ancient Delhi monuments. Over the years, I experimented with several mediums and my move to Singapore brought me to study further at NAFA (Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts). I like to paint whatever I can get my hands on; paper, canvas, cement walls, fabrics, wooden or even glass artifacts. Animals continue to be an essential ingredient in my journey, and I also volunteer at ACRES to rescue animals, bringing me closer to the core of my inspiration.

Joyotee: When and how did elephants become part of your journey?
Alpana: I have always been passionate about animal causes and loved painting animals in water colour. On one of my trips to Delhi I set out late one night to help a dog hit by a car....and it was a chain of events that led me to the Co-founders of Wildlife SOS India. I was amazed to learn about their work and wanted to help them through my art ( I have been helping local NGO -ACRES with my art since 2005). So I painted a calendar for 2014 and used it as a tool to create awareness about Wildlife SOS. The elephant I painted in that calendar set me off on a beautiful journey. I felt a deep connection and spent many days with the rescued elephants, bonding with them. 

I felt elephants paintings piling up inside me and couldn't get them out fast enough! I was totally immersed in my if the confusion had finally cleared and I could see my path. I now understood why and how an artist can spend so many years just painting one topic. Years of painting Lord Ganesha, part elephant, part human had transited into an embodiment of the whole.

Joyotee: Your elephant foot print series with the elephant paintings behind have a beautiful effect and I really feel one has to see it in person to get a full feel of the emotions it evokes? Can you share with us how you get the elephants to create these prints on your canvas?

Alpana: The elephant footprint series or 'Padhchinhs' were conceived by me in their current form. Mahouts working with the elephants used to take footprint impressions of the elephants and Wildlife SOS offered me these canvasses to work on and add my art. But Colours are very important to me and I wanted to execute everything myself from start to finish. So I pre-prepared the canvas myself, by painting the backgrounds and then worked with the elephants, along with the mahouts and a Vet. I work mostly with elephant Phoolkali, a 52 year old gentle elephant. The elephants are trained to lift their feet for a medical examination, so I apply the Colours I want on the foot-palette and the elephant places it on the canvas. Meanwhile she gets lots of bananas and treats as a reward. Once the prints are done, I scrub her feet clean with a brush. She also decides how long she wants to work. She is free to walk off to meet her friends! When she returns she brings mud and bits of elephant poop also and sometimes this gets embedded into the prints. 
100% proceeds from the Padhchinhs go to Wildlife SOS for the elephants. Animals have no answer to two of mans inventions- money and the gun. And they have been prosecuted, exploited, hunted, tortured by man using both against them. 

Joyotee: Any unique experience or stories you would like to share while creating these?

Alpana: Last year I got a chance to work with the baby of the herd- 6 year old Peanut. She was excited and jumpy and put her trunk into everything including my paints, so the mahout suggested I work with her hind foot. I started without thinking much.....until I got smacked across my face by her constantly swishing tail! It was a narrow escape, as the tail has hard bristles of hair and I felt like I had been smacked with a toilet brush. So I got another mahout to hold her tail. We started work......and then she decided to pee!! It was like a tap gushing, and I had to quickly retrieve my canvas to save it, then wash and dry the space to work again. Baby Peanut also polished off three times the amount of treats gentle Phoolkali eats! This year I could not work with her as the mahouts said she is very naughty and does not realise her own strength and just wants to play. So the dozen or so foot prints I got are really very precious as now she is much bigger in size also.

Joyotee: Do you think you have found your niche and do you think elephants are something that will remain your muse for a while?

Alpana: Yes I feel fulfilled and also energised when I'm painting elephants. I do think I will be painting them for the next few years. My future projects will include more animals like the Sloth bear, and native wildlife of Singapore. 

One can see her passion and love for the animals, the way her eyes sparkle when speaking about her process of getting the Padhchinhs done. It takes years for an artist to find their voice. Alpana has found hers amidst these majestic creatures. We wish her luck that her sadhana and her expression will help her in her social cause of creating awareness for the animals. All proceeds of the Padhchinhs go to Wildlife SOS for the elephants.
Please do make it a stop before the 17th of September. I felt enriched walking out of this show. Wishing all the artists luck with their expression and respective muses.

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