New Delhi: A black and white street impression of a lynched man with “Dadri, north of India, Circa 2015” scribbled on it, immediately strikes a chord with the viewer. The pencil drawing is a response to the Dadri lynching by acclaimed artist Arpita Singh. Though it’s not a part of the ongoing show of her drawings, watercolours and sketchbooks at Vadehra Art Gallery, it will soon be exhibited in the capital.
As an artist, Singh was stirred by the Dadri lynching, as also the murder of writer M.M. Kalburgi and other rationalists, and she fully supports the artists’ community in returning their awards. A Padma Bhushan awardee, Arpita Singh too contemplated doing so but decided to keep it as a mark of respect for former prime minister Manmohan Singh, who had recommended the award. “I respect Manmohan Singh as he is a learned person and a scholar. People don’t realise that it’s not easy to give up an award as recognition is hard to come by. It is unfair to accuse artists as politically motivated,” Arpita Singh said.
Talking to IANS at Vadehra Art Gallery, the artist said that of late, her works reflect her social insecurities, whether it’s the painting titled “Palmyra-Tailors & Drapers” or “Desert Wail”.
“Palmyra”, a 2015 watercolour, sends a powerful message of our troubled times with a hijab and beheaded man in the background. “For artists, visuals are our language. I started writing texts of my work to convey its meaning to the viewer,” she said.
On a similar vein, “The Desert Wail” reflects the painter’s concern as it shows the map of the Silk Route, with a dead body at the bottom. Then, there is “Women Friendly Taxi”, which any woman living in Delhi can relate to.
Partition also finds an expression in her work. “As a 10-year old, I have seen from my window a Muslim man being burnt. The strange thing is that the scene is still etched in my memory sans any feelings,” the artist said.
Arpita Singh’s small format works, spanning from 1990 to 2015, shows her use of the lines broken, fragmented or staccato. This may resemble a map or an ECG, offering a different way of viewing her works, from her highly finished paintings. “These drawings are done when I was at home, or when travelling. That’s why they are small. I can’t conceive large artworks and with large work, I may lose the proposition,” she confessed.
Arpita Singh made headlines in 2010 as the highest valued Indian artists with her iconic “Wish Dream” mural fetching Rs 9.6 crore ($1.5 million) in an auction by Saffronart. Measuring 24/14 ft, it was influenced by a Tibetan play, she said. Except for the pestering of the Income Tax department, life hasn’t changed much after that high point. “It was only an auction. I had nothing to do with it except for the queries of the Income Tax people,” she laughed.
Though her oeuvre boasts of a varied palette of black and white and colour paintings, from figurative to abstract, Arpita Singh doesn’t want to catogorise herself, “Whether its figurative or abstract, it’s all same to me. I started as a figurative. But after two shows, I felt I was stuck. To get out of it, I started making only dots and lines in black for eight years. That’s the period when people called me as abstract artist. I returned to figurative after that,” she explained.
From youthful bodies to flabby figures and sagging breasts, her female forms also have also undergone change. “It is not that I have attempted flabby figure or melancholic expression. A friend of mine said all my female forms look like my mother. Women in my paintings represent what they are,” she elaborated.
Pitching in for more public art to popularise the medium, she countered the argument that obscene prices make art works unaffordable. “Buying an artwork is like buying a precious stone or germ. For an artist too, it gives the satisfaction of recognition,” she signed off.