Six artists to invest in
They wield enormous skill across media, ask big questions and take a stand
ASTHA BUTAIL, 37
As a child, growing up in the ’90s in a family of 25, Butail was a voracious collector of anecdotes and stories, which she weaved into fiction. She later went on to study fashion design at NIFT, Bengaluru, and worked with brands like Ann Taylor, Puma and Converse. But in 2011, realising its immense potential for storytelling, Butail turned her attention to more conceptual design. She still created clothes and accessories, except now with unlikely materials like umbrella fabric, pipes and felt – and she wore them too, sparking conversation.
Her long-standing association with Auroville has been another catalyst for the artist – it led her to study Vedic Sanskrit and Rig Vedic hymns at the IGNOU, and eventually create her ambitious book project, ‘A Story within a Story’ (Astorywithinastory.com). Part of the SARAI Reader ’09 exhibition, the project invited friends, strangers, and audiences to share any kind of writing or artwork within the Rig Vedic theme of the Black Sun (a concept signifying the conflict or unity of opposites), over a period of nine months. These submissions became 100 artist books, in which stories were connected through visual and contextual cues. The process mimicked that of Rig Vedic hymns, which were originally passed down generations by oral traditions before being compiled into a book. Her return to the root of the Hindu Vedic system – fluid and free of sermonising – makes its concepts more relevant than the moral brigade ever could.
Watch out for: Butail takes her fascination with our Vedic roots to Benares next, for a project that involves working with local brocades.
Felt blouse, nylon skirt, leather shoes; all her own
Styling: Arushi Parakh; Make-up and Hair: Sonam Kapoor
VIDHA SAUMYA, 30
Her last outing with her grotesquerie of bloated women at a recent BhupenKhakhar tribute show captured their quivering flesh in the seemingly bawdy act of sneezing. Each frame referenced social niceties, the need to control public image and the global obsession with the female form – at one go. You wanted to applaud, but also recoil a little.
Saumya, who works out of Madh Island, north of Mumbai, loves making pictures, whether by drawing them, photographing them or writing them. Her inspiration, she says, comes from looking beyond fine art. During her years at the Sir JJ School of Arts, Saumya dabbled in experimental theatre as a set designer, and then did a visual design diploma at Srishti in Bengaluru. She later won a scholarship to study art and film at the Beaconhouse University, Lahore (2008-09), where she had three solo shows before returning to Mumbai and debuting her first Indian solo, ‘Love Charades’, at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinreucke in 2011. Saumya believes it’s a great time to be a young artist in India, but is irked by the growing tendency to oversimplify art into “a capsule to swallow with a glass of wine”. “It’s high time we cultivate a sense of humour and some
throat-slitting critique,” she says.
Watch out for: ‘Gunpowder’, her next series of drawings about urban India, which will be part of her next solo with Galerie M+S, and a multilingual, collaborative artist book on Chinese Massage [she happened upon an instructional manual].
Silk blouse, Rs. 9,500, Payal Khandwala. Cropped leather trousers, woven brooch; both her own. Leather pointy pumps, price on request, Christian Louboutin. Metal and stone bangles, price on request, Zariin
Styling: Akanksha Kamath; Make-up and Hair: Sunita Brace; Art Direction: Reshma Rajiwdekar; Location Courtesy Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai
POONAM JAIN, 24
As a child, she wanted to be a nun – a perfectly reasonable plan for the conservative Jain family Poonam Jain comes from. But somewhere along the way, art became the lens through which she chose to continue her religious studies. “I’m not religious, per se, but I’ve lived with religion since I was little,” she says, and exploring Jainism is her way of relating to the world. The petite artist’s paintings and installations are conversant with the Jain doctrines of consciousness and singularity. Her installations – painstaking and intricate constructions – are proof of her incredible craft. She glued hundreds of ear buds end-to-end to create chemical bond structures for her installation Networks with in Small Worlds, displayed at INSERT in Delhi earlier this year.
Jain is also a member of Shunya, a collective of young artists associated with Clark House Initiative, Mumbai, which has offered critique and support since she moved to the city to join the Rachana Sansad school of arts in 2011. While she hasn’t shown solo yet, her work has been featured in the first edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and the 55th Venice Biennale’s Transnational Pavilion (2013). Jain is working towards what she hopes will be her first solo show at the end of 2014.
Watch out for: Jain, who views homes as no different than books, will create “cover pages” for them in her neighbourhood in Mumbai by using the doors as her canvas.
Neoprene blouse, Rs 2,790, Zara. Woollen cardigan, Rs 1595, Vero Moda. Cotton skirt, Rs. 1,295, Koovs.com. Leather T-strap sandals, Rs. 7,999, Charles & Keith. Metal ring, Rs. 2,195 (set of nine), metal bracelets, Rs. 1,145 (set of two); all Accessorize
Styling: Nidhi Jacob; Make-up and Hair: Sunita Brace; Art Direction: Reshma Rajiwdekar; Assisted by: Neeti Gadodia (Styling), Raj Mukadam (Hair); Location courtesy: Clark House Initiative, Mumbai
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PALLAVI PAUL, 28
Watching an experimental video by Pallavi Paul is like entering an alternate universe of time travel and poetic license. Fiction and reality meld and fragment in ways that disrupt the comfort of watching a conventional film. Language, sound and image are compounded to create a timeline so disorienting, we begin to question the form of cinema itself. In the exhibition ‘WORD.SOUND.POWER’ at Tate Modern last year, in collaboration with Delhi’s Khoj International Artists’
Residency, Paul showed the first two parts of a trilogy proposing fictional conversations between poets of different cultures and epochs. One of the narratives follows the political poems of vagabond poet Vidrohi, who lives on the campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, where Paul is a PhD student in cinema studies. The other narrative is based on the text After Lorca, in which the anarchist American poet Jack Spicer writes to [avant-garde Spanish poet] Garcia Lorca nearly 20 years after his death. “Are you taking care of your quiet poems?” he asks, and the deceased poet writes back. Her unique gift is that she can didactically deconstruct the moving image and still retain its lyricism.
Paul has already collected multiple fellowships for experimental film and video and shown at film festivals like the FDI’s 100 Years of Experimentation and MAMI last year. She recently completed her third experimental filmLong Hair Short Ideas and will have her first solo exhibition this September at Project 88 in Mumbai.
Watch out for: Paul’s collaboration with performance artist Sahej Rahal on a public art project for the Vancouver Biennial. They will create a character from WWII history who swings between the colonised migrant labourer and adventurer, commenting on the shared history between India and British Columbia.
Linen dress, price on request, Lecoanet Hemant. Metal strap watch, her own
Styling: Arushi Parakh; Make-up and Hair: Sonam Kapoor; Location Courtesy Khoj International Artists' Association, New Delhi
PRIYANKA DASGUPTA, 35
Priyanka Dasgupta’s sprawling oeuvre makes material of the human unconscious, its ticks and vulnerabilities, by creating interactive multi-media installations with larger-than-life shadow puppets. Theatricality permeates ambitiously assembled spaces that invite the audience to become part of the drama of the hidden psyche. In her first solo exhibition, ‘Dreams of Inconvenience’, at Shrine Empire Gallery in New Delhi in 2011, Dasgupta subverted Freud’s theory that ‘dreams of convenience’ resolve physical anxieties through dream action. She suggested, instead, that dreams further real-life complexities. In one video, a female protagonist (played by Dasgupta), resplendent in red, ties ribbons to a tree and eventually vanishes, while in another, a flimsy bed collapses under the weight of heavy rain. These are just some of the eccentric and disparate elements that make up Dasgupta’s dream worlds.
The uneasy veil of cultural identity politics tracing back to the Kolkata born, New York-based artist’s own conflicts between home and abroad is a source of angst in ‘Dreams...’ It also surfaces in her recent work, Forgetfulness (conceptualised at the Transparent Studio in New York and shown at the India Art Fair in Delhi in January), comprising a seven-foot mechanised shadow puppet – intricately cut from parchment, goat-skin and wood – represents her grandmother, multi-armed and wielding her closest possessions consisting of a transistor radio, scissors and other household items that she obsessively keeps in arm’s reach. The artist comments on society’s material dependence over our dependence on relationships. Her ability to assimilate complex emotional and artistic impulses into dynamic interactive spaces that trigger human experiences is extraordinary. When she isn’t working and exhibiting extensively in the US, the UK and Asia, Dasgupta also teaches contemporary art and media at New York University.
Watch out for: ‘Death Eaters’ (working title), with animatronic sculptures, projected animations and a large heap of TV monitors, which riffs on the vacuous realm of celebrity culture.
Jersey t-shirt, faux leather trousers, leather boots, woollen stole; all her own
AADITI JOSHI, 34
Beautiful, organic forms resembling water shrubbery adorned the gallery walls and a huge armature extended across the cavernous interior of Gallery Maskara at Aaditi Joshi’s first solo show in Mumbai in 2011. Pleasing as they were to the eye, on closer inspection, the amorphous forms turned out to be plastic bags – that ubiquitous, ugly by-product of urbanisation. Through a labour intensive heating process, Joshi had fused together common plastic bags, used acrylic paint to liven their colour and then shredded them to lend the effect of living, breathing organisms. The artist’s ingenuity put her in the running for the Skoda Prize for best solo exhibition that year.
The Mumbai-based artist, who has been working with plastic for more than a decade, says she fell in love with it for its malleability and transparence. At first, her appropriation of the material in her work was anguished and made clear her contempt for its toxic nature and our dependence on it (In response to the heavy floods of July 2005, which were caused by drains blocked with plastic and other trash, her 2007 exhibition ‘Suffocation’ included a chilling video of Joshi with a plastic bag over her head, choking). But over time, it has given way to grace, even playfulness. In her most recent works, Joshi has adopted plastic as an aesthetic medium, something capable of rising above its own crudeness and becoming art. After an artist residency in Tuscany and unveiling new video works in New Delhi at the India Art Fair this year, she is now back in her studio, searching for new ways to stretch the potential of plastic, just a little further.
Watch out for: Joshi is working on a series of videos, photographs and maybe a site-specific work (“too soon to tell”) created by using recyclable material.
Neoprene dress, Rs. 2,990, metal and suede block heels, Rs. 2,790; both Zara
Stying: Nidhi Jacob; Make-up and Hair: Sunita Brace; Art Direction: Reshma Rajiwdekar; Assisted by: Neeti Gadodia (styling), Raj Mukadam (hair)