It is always frightening to embark upon a commissioned piece, especially with first time collectors. The expectations are high, the boundaries unclear and the guidelines not always well defined. But this is a success story- for all those artists out there who hate commissions- this one was fantastic and it makes me realize that there are reasons it worked and I want to document both the journey and these reasons.
My representative introduced me to the Talanki’s- a couple with three lovely girls in their gorgeous home in Lincoln Park, Chicago. It was clear upfront that they were drawn to my work and they wanted a centerpiece for their amazing living room. Talking to more made me realize what they were about, get a sense of their home and come up with some initial ideas. The next meeting to firm up the details was in my home-studio. Bonding over my beautiful hydrangeas and the joy of working with our hands- we sealed the deal- set approximate timelines (After all I am an artist- I can only give a range of when I can get it done by- not a date!!) and I promised to start work on it while I went to India for 1 month for a solo show- but before that we set a photo shoot date, where I would take some shots of the girls. The work had to integrate the center of their universe into it.
Photo day- an incredible afternoon, spent singing, dancing, playing sketching games- amidst smiles and tears, eating home-made granola and cookies and admiring snowglobes- I got acquainted with the three evolving personalities. I ended up with over 200 shots and a lot of ideas that I had about a month to ruminate over. Several ideas and sketches later, I knew what I wanted the work to be about. A lot of the ideas were being developed while I was in India getting ready for a solo show and struggling with the concept of maternity.
Coming back to Chicago- we finalized the details over email and I shared some sketches with them and started on the piece a few weeks later. It was amazing how quickly the ideas and forms took shape. There were some corrections, deletions, changes that happened along the way but a visit from an artist friend helped point out the problem areas that I was ‘stuck’ in and why the piece wasn’t working. Fresh creative perspective that came in at the right time- the benefits of a wonderful creative community.
Delivery day was full of trepidation and anticipation. We had a friend drive us over in his van- the unveiling was sweet, the tears genuine and the words spoken- I will cherish forever. The oldest daughter read out the poem from my sketchbook titled “Roots and Wings” and the girls exclaimed how much they loved it. I gave her a pen drive with the pictures from the photoshoot, the images of me at work on the piece and a sketchbook with ideas and drawings to accompany the history of the work.
It was a day that validated my choice of career in a myriad of ways and left me with a memory of an experience that I will cherish for a long time to come.
I’m slaving away for a show in Mumbai this September and using every skill I have to convert my ideas into paintings in the limited amount of time I have.
Sometimes my paintings just get stuck. I come up with an idea, sketch, turn to canvas, paint and then when I’m about 80% done- Wall… So I’m at the point where instead of spending weeks (that I don’t have) resolving the work, I have 5 at that almost – compete stage. I’m just moving on. Abandoning the work, so to say. And then, early in the morning 7am when I’m back in the studio, it just resolves itself…
Nothing like a deadline to motivate. Nothing like the morning to inspire.
I’m happy with this one. It’s nameless as of now but it makes me feel content. For now…
Brad and Masood came to my studio after looking at my portfolio. Each of them connected to my work on a different level. Masood, a doctor, originally from the Asian subcontinent- could related to my work as it essentially evoked sentiments of nostalgia. Brad, an educator- connected with the text and the literacy being the most vital transforming force that elevates a life from abject poverty.
My work is a comment upon resilience in the face of urban deprivation. The irony of the bookseller who cannot read resonated with both of them and I knew that that is what I wanted the work to be about. I wanted illegible text to be an important part of the work and wrote a poem for the painting. As both of them would probably be the ones sitting in that car, while the bookseller comes up to them, I played with different vantage points and perspectives and finally settled on the reflection of the bookseller in the car.
Being from India and working as a volunteer in the education space- I could relate to both of them very easily. We discussed broad ideas and themes and the final execution was completely at my discretion.
Yesterday was the unveiling of the show- with each work covered with a white sheet till all the artists and patrons arrived at 7pm. After 45 minutes and a short introduction by Kate Lorenz, the work was uncovered and each patron got a chance to look at and discuss the work with the artist. Each artist and patron received a beautiful catalogue and everyone enjoyed an amazing evening at the art center. The show received some wonderful press from Chicago Gallery News and The Atlantic and I personally could not have been happier that I was chosen to be part of this incredible endeavor.
Created by the Hyde Park Art Center, Not Just Another Pretty Face allows the Art Center to play matchmaker for artists and potential art buyers, facilitating a fun, accessible commissioning process that builds lasting relationships between artists and patrons, creates a new base of support for artists, and invests in the vitality of Chicago’s cultural community.
I met Jane first in the home of another potential patron and later in her wonderful home in Evanston. From our first meeting, it was evident that getting to know Jane was like peeling layers off an onion. She slowly spoke about the many roles she played as a wife, a store owner, mother, a community member, a world traveller and even occasionally an artist. Her appreciation for and love of art came through in everything she spoke of- her art collection at home, her son’s photography, her daughters passion for ceramics.
She mentioned the transformative process she underwent when she started a ceramics workshop at the Evanston arts center. My work focuses around the issues of labor and literacy and the beauty of working with your hands. I wanted to capture this moment in an abstracted way highlighting the roles that she plays. Her daughter, Emily is currently a full-time ceramist and I started by photographing her while she worked in the studio. I then translated the images into drawings and the final piece is a painting that shows Emily working on the pottery wheel.
The piece is about labor, about the complex roles that women play in society and about handing down passion from one generation to the next. My goal was to focus on the uniqueness of the individual and highlight that each of us with our zest for life and unique passions can be much more than just another brick in the wall.
I’ve been involved in a public streetscape design project through the Chicago Public Art Group for Devon Avenue. Devon is reputed to be the ‘Little India’ of Chicago with residential and business communities settled here. The goal was to work with urban designers, architects, engineers, City department of transport, the Alderman’s office and community to beautify the neighborhood through customized design. The entire project is scheduled through to 2020 but the detailed Phase1 of the proposal can now be found on the alderman’s website.
The idea was to first come up with three themes, break them up into concepts and then build them into design. The final goal was to have a few designs for Gateway identifiers, stamps on the street, seating pods and (budget permitting) some sculptures. The design had to be made keeping in mind cost-space considerations, outdoor conditions, vandalism and artwork safety and longevity.
The 3 broad themes I built upon were History as built environment, Celebrating traditions and Unity in Diversity. Once you look closer, Devon starts unfolding as so much more than ‘Little India’. It has many other south Asian communities- Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and other Jewish, Russian and Croatian communities here too. The goal was to have the design traditional in concept, include all communities and unite Devon instead of dividing it further. The colors that I wanted were rich jewel tones to complement the street and not add to the cacophony. I also wanted to link existing architecture to the new streetscape design. After much brainstorming, sketching, presentation preparation, meetings, the team made presentations to the alderman and community.
The enhancements are so much more than just aesthetic- there is focus towards place making and detailed attention given to existing issues and how they can be solved. Of course, there are a lot of naysayers who are dissatisfied about everything and a few people who ask mundane and silly questions- but coming from Mumbai where no one cares about anything but how to make a buck- it was great to work with government officials who actually seem to care about the community.
For me personally, it has been a great experience in learning how to work harmoniously in a group and how aesthetic enhancements can create pride in a community.
I went for the Steve McCurry exhibit at the Taidehalle when I was in Helsinki. Besides fantastic compositions and capturing the soul of his subject- there was a short film on his using the last roll of Kodachrome film to capture images that meant something to him. To fulfill this quest, he decided to go to India, his chosen destination for vibrance of color, subject matter and diversity. Of course, the images both enthralled me and made me a bit nostalgic and homesick.
We’re so entrenched in the digital camera age, that its easy to take multiple shots and delete/ edit/ instragram/ share. As I walked from the Taidehalle to the Museo Design in Helsinki, I challenged myself to take predetermined shots, with as much control as possible. I’m always searching for compositions- in my head, in my surroundings. A simple setting, vibrant, with shapes, color and an intriguing subject matter was what I was looking for. An object in a setting that I could weave a story around.
So, if you had 36 shots left, what would you click?
Art on Armitage is a window gallery in a predominantly working class and Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago. It brings art out of the confines of the traditional art gallery and into the realm of the public. It is reputed for demystifying and making art accessible and showcasing artists who have strong social messages to convey.
When I secured a space to show here, I decided to display a combination of installation and paintings. The paintings were from the ‘Burden of Dreams’ series. I used to photograph manual workers at construction sites- some of these images included them carrying heavy material on their back/ head/ shoulders and this became the starting point for ‘Burden of Dreams’. Bricks, used in construction, unite to form walls used to divide spaces. They are the perfect metaphor to compliment the work. They also add weight to the paintings.
The installation was a haath-gadi that fluidly converts itself into a home/ sleeping bunker. The interior of the haath-gaadi- created by found strips of wood, plastic tarp and jute strings- is decorated with a good luck charm of the nimboo-mirchi, images of lord ganesha and hero-worship film posters. The tarp itself has graffiti-like scribbles of text from school books, poems and math equations. Labor in all developing nations has been the job of the poor- where you use your body rather than your mind to earn. I called it Work-Life Balance because of the irony- it is such a white-collar term and the life of these workers actually has no balance. Their time is spent struggling for survival and dreaming of a better future. At the time of installing this work, I was reading ‘Beyond the Beautiful Forevers’ a book by Katherine Boo, which was also a source of inspiration.
I am an avid reader, and stories form an essential part of my life. They can be escapist, yet thought provoking; a poem can alter my mood and reading an article can elevate me. Literacy is a privilege- though those who have it take it for granted and those who don’t can’t even begin to imagine how it could change their lives. The reason for using illegible text was to momentarily evoke the feeling of helplessness in the viewer that an illiterate person feels every day.
All these elements were things I’d already used before. It seemed logical that, in time, they would come together.
I visit every city that my husband works in and this trip was to Detroit. I went there from Chicago on the Amtrak, my first long-distance train journey in the United States. A very comfortable one, with picturesque moments as we passed the great lakes and some incredible ones as the city approached- abandoned, dilapidated houses (called ‘blight’ by some locals), shattered panes of glass and huge lots filled with tyres and scrap metal cars. Walking through a deserted downtown, the city just has this feeling of a ‘has-been’. There were several silent moments for self-reflection- while I was the only person in a café for breakfast, or the only passenger in the compartment of the ‘people-mover’ or the only human at the plaza on the riverfront. There was so much ‘ruin porn’ to photograph and still I couldn’t make myself do it. I would feel too much like one of those tourists who visit Mumbai and just take pictures of slums. It didn’t seem fair to be a visitor and do that to the city.
I am, however, posting an image from artist/ photographer Eric Holubow because I think this image manages to capture the essence whilst still being hopeful and wistful.
The highlight of the trip was a visit to the DIA- the Detroit Institute of Art which I happened to visit on the 80th anniversary of Rivera’s completion of the gorgeous Detroit Industry Murals. In a beautiful sunlit hall, there are 27 panels dedicated to the Detroit labor industry, the finest Mexican mural art in the United states. These murals depict industry and technology as the indigenious culture of Detroit. A detailed ipad tour outlines the thought process, ideas, and every conceivable insight into the work. It gave a feel of what the city might have been like in its prime and really helped to compile the history much better than any Wikipedia page ever could have.
A couple of years ago, I featured in a magazine article with another artist, Shruti Mahajan. While refurbishing my website, I chanced upon that article again. Her poignant re-creation of her childhood, led me down Sojat Road, Rajasthan- my nani’s home that I used to visit every summer as a kid. I love it when an artist can do that- make you look at their work- very personal reminiscences and make you take a trip down memory lane. In those days photography was not as rampant so I have to re-create this place in my thoughts and maybe someday on paper.
I remember… a large lawn with large trees with small white flowers that we plucked at 5am and wove into necklaces, a deep well that we used to remove water from to bathe in a large steel tub, those cobwebs in attics where everything was a treasure, the large coolers- that gave cool air and humidity, a typewriter on the second floor where we enacted plays that we scripted ourselves, jumping on rooftops playing hide and seek with cousins, trips to the market and hogs in the gutters on the street side, mosquito repellents and nets everywhere to save our tender city-skin. I recall that the first thing we saw when we woke up were peacocks, dancing on the rooftops where all the kids made their beds and the last thought at night being that I have never seen so many stars in the sky before- millions of them, twinkling. I recollect the taste of that early lunch made with fresh home-grown vegetables. I recall a man who came every evening at the same time to sell us fresh malai kulfi ice-cream and how all the neighbors used to gather if we played a movie on the television screen. I remember all the help, who were like family- drying papads, chilies and spices in the sun, cleaning, cooking and letting us children ‘help’ them.
As I walk down this road in my head today, it invades my senses. I know when, if I go back- it will all be different. Some part evolution and some part recollections skewed from reality. Still, I look at kids today who will remember a childhood of IPad and X-box and I know I am fortunate to have what I do- even if it is just in my flailing memory.