Abraaj Review

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SATURDAY, MAR 31, 2012
Award-winning Pakistani artist
Risham Syed uses her needle to MEMORY QUILTS
tease out the dark histories of
I RIP Adrienne Rich
the colonial cotton trade
Even as the doors to Art Dubai, the
The pioneering feminist poet
Adrienne Rich died last week at the
age of 82. Her poems were treasured
by thousands of ordinary women, many
Middle East's biggest fair, opened last
of whom had not studied literature or
week, Pakistani artist Risham Syed
poetry. As the New Yorker put it, "The
was busy with needle and thread.
ringing, defiant poetry of Adrienne
Rich...articulated the frustrations of
Pulling out a string here and quickly
For her work
`Seven Seas',

women who came of age along clipped
sewing on a button there, even as the
paths in the nineteen-forties and fifties,
champagne-swilling art frat streamed
travelled to
only to discover in
most of the
the sixties and seve-
through the halls, expecting to see
mapped in

nties the extent of
paint and not patchwork. Instead of
her quilts.
their longing to tear
canvases, seven intricate and detailed
up the grass." She
wrote about the
quilts hung from the ceiling -- the
kept her
horrors of domestic
result of Risham's handiwork over
away from
India but she

confinement and the
the past year which has won her the
sourced the
kind of woman "who
Warli art
shaves her legs until
prestigious Abraaj Capital art prize for
they gleam/ like petrified mammoth-
2012. The cavernous white-walled
from friends
and worked

tusk". After Rich died, she began to trend
spaces of the art fair seemed to
on it in
on twitter, and this brought a whole new
immediately shrink to a more intimate
readership to her passionate verse:
You're wondering if I'm lonely:
setting, reminding one of days when
guns on military uniforms and
gara and dabka badge that you
In a work from the Needlework
OK then, yes, I'm lonely
domestic flotsam -- scraps of old
juxtapose flowers with missiles.
can see on the quilt was done in
Series, that showed at the Devi
as a plane rides lonely and level
fabrics and outgrown clothes - was
I use domesticity to present
Lahore. The base material for all
Art Foundation in Gurgaon, you
on its radio beam, aiming
Artists are experimenting with
things in a pretty way but there is
quilts is cheap cotton from Lahore
borrowed an image from the news
across the Rockies
sewn together to make cozy, colourful
a host of new mediums and
violence within that domesticity
with European prints.
coverage of the US invasion of
for the blue-strung aisles
quilts. But these are not coverlets that
materials. Why have you chosen
which connects with the violence
Afghanistan which showed a
of an airfield on the ocean.
you want to dive under, for they hide
to go back to something as
Why the fascination with maps?
missile launch. Does all that is
old-fashioned and traditional
Maps connect the past and the
happening in Pakistan and the
You want to ask, am I lonely?
in their many layers untold stories
as needle and thread?
Your work is called Seven Seas.
present. The maps on my quilts
world influence you?
Well, of course, lonely
and hidden histories. The work, titled
With Seven Seas, I wanted to start
Did you travel to all the seven
show modern-day geographical
Even when I started painting, I
as a woman driving across country
`Seven Seas', sourced fabric
a dialogue with a
countries mapped in your quilts?
boundaries but they look old --
used to collect images from the
day after day, leaving behind
tradition and what
I travelled to most of them. I
that play is important. Maps say
newspaper and use them. The
mile after mile
from seven nations -- Turkey,
better way to do
couldn't come to India because
so much about history, about how
idea was that so much happens
little towns she might have stopped
Bangladesh, UAE, Sri Lanka,
it than with some-
of visa problems but I have been
land is defined and divided. In the
around us but in print, the news
and lived and died in, lonely
UK, India and Pakistan --
thing as multi-lay-
many times before, so I could draw
UAE map, I made a mistake, calling
somehow becomes distant. Even
ered as a quilt? And
on my memory. For the map that
the Arabian Gulf the Persian Gulf,
now, I paint journalistic photo-
to connect the cotton trade
this isn't the first
shows Mumbai, I got friends to
and I had to correct as it would
graphs. I animate them by painting
I New, Unimproved Titanic
of the British empire with
time I have worked
send over a Warli tribe sari and
have caused a controversy. But that
them but they're plastic because I
contemporary geopolitics.
with needle and
Maharashtrian handloom. The
mistake became part of my work.
use acrylic.
thread. When I was
The quilts depict maps of
studying in Lon-
You have explored colonialism
Some cuss it out as sentimentalism on
steroids, but its fans consider it the
most perfect film ever made. The
various port cities -- such as
don, I became interested in Victori-
in several works, especially the
Titanic's perfectionist director James
Mumbai and Izmir in Turkey -- that
an lace patterns. I started painting
one titled Two Indians Viewing
Cameron has his own demons. In the
lace in my work and juxtaposing it
the Landscape. Tell us about that
years since the blockbuster released in
were strategically located on colonial
with photographs in the nineties.
1997, he has become increasingly obse-
European trade routes. Apart from
Since 2001, I have been using a lot
I made a replica of Thomas Cole's
ssed with the "unsinkable ship", diving to
being trade gateways, they were also
of stitching. For one work (Tent of
Indians Viewing the Landscape
the wreck in the North Atlantic 33 times
sites of rebellion against imperialism.
Darius), I bought army coats from
(1827) which sums up the philoso-
in a submersible, to study how the real
the second-hand market in Lahore
phy of the 19th century -- discov-
thing compared to his film creation. "We
The 43-year-old artist's quilts are
and embroidered them. I think it
ery, exploration and settlement. I
found places that the set was wrong, little
like collages of physical materials,
all goes back to when my son was
then placed two child-size Victorian
bit, you know, this was wrong, that was
thoughts, ideas and memories.
born and my mom took out all
chairs in front of it so that any
wrong. There was
those frilly baby sets they made us
two `Indians' could sit in the chairs
glass missing from a
TOI-Crest caught up with Syed
embroider in the convent. It was
and view the two Indians viewing
door. I thought I'd
assumed that when we grew up, we
the landscape in the painting. In a
thought about every-
would find a suitable man, marry
way, they then become a part of the
thing about Titanic,"
and have children. This is my way
dialogue of the present with the
he moaned. Now, 15
of being critical of the expectations
past. The two Victorian chairs
years later, while
imposed on women.
that I made are still used today
working on a re-
in upper middle class homes in
mastered 3-D version
Needlework carries the baggage
Pakistan -- we love the Victorian
-- a laborious process he called "horrific"
DISCOVERY CHANNEL: A replica of Thomas Cole's `Indians Viewing the
of domesticity. Yet you embroider
Landscape' has two chairs for `Indians' to sit in and relive the experience
era and still like to live it.
and "mind-numbing" -- Cameron
restrained the urge to correct those doors
and kept to the original frames. "There
was a moment when I thought, fleetingly,
I could correct the film and actually have
it match what the Titanic really looked
like," he said. "Another part of my
All the world's an egg
mind said, no, then you're going be a
nutter standing on the street corner
babbling away. Didn't change a frame.
Das Gupta's masterly treatment of
The ship still sinks. Jack still dies." And
A new exhibition of master
solid material.
the heart is still going on.
Sarbari Roy Choudhury's tech-
sculptors Prodosh Das
nique of sculpting creates small-
I Goodbye, Ruby Mondays
scale forms inspired largely from
Gupta and Sarbari Roy
classical music. The forms depict-
Choudhury is full of curves
ing Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan
Veteran vegetarian Paul Mccartney
has joined forces with his two
rendering his compositions, for
daughters to pen a new cookbook.
instance, cut away at the material
Together with designer Stella and pho-
and bring forth on the facial fea-
tographer Mary, the legendary Beatle has
tures a musical rhythm strummed
decided to publish the family's favourite
out in stone. The figures have a
recipes as part of their Meat Free Monday
Centennial exhibitions are heavyweight
CREATIVE CONTOURS: `Egg Bride' (left) -- one of
strong link with a modeling tradi-
movement. The campaign -- a response
occasions by any yardstick, but when the
Prodosh Das Gupta's bronze-and-metal creations
tion but in Roy Choudhury's
to a UN report that the livestock industry
exhibition combines a centenary tribute
and Sarbari Roy Choudhury's `Mother' (above)
hands, the craft-linked superficiali-
as a whole is responsi-
to master Indian sculptor Prodosh Das Gupta
versity in Baroda. Both men travelled widely
ty deepens to more sensitive interpretations.
ble for more green-
with a tribute to 80 years of sculpting by
in Europe and were influenced by the
Even when the themes are downright every
house gas emissions
Sarbari Roy Choudhury, it becomes an
masters of the era, such as Henry Moore
day, such as Combing her Hair or Me and
than the whole of the
embarrassment of riches. Even the scale of
and Giacometti. While Prodosh Das Gupta
My Mother, they evoke a delicate blending
transport sector put
this exhibition, in terms of the number of
was curator and director of the National
of eastern realism and western abstraction.
together -- encour-
sculptures -- there are more than a hundred
Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi, from 1957 to
Bringing the works of the two masters to
ages meat eaters to
-- is something of a record. According to
1970, Sarbari Roy Choudhury lived in Santi-
a single platform was a conscious decision
cut animals out of
Dr Sudhakar Sharma, secretary, Lalit Kala Aka-
niketan and nutured contemporary talents
of the exhibition's coordinator Reena Lath.
their diet once a
demi, "In the many decades of showcasing art,
such as the sculptor K S Radhakrishnan.
"Both these artists were extremely soulful
week. The Meat Free
such a large body of sculptures sourced from
The display must be saluted for bringing
people," she says. "They are inclined
Monday Cookbook,
individual outputs is a historic first among the
to the public eye so many of their legendary
towards a language that is very personal.
which contains 52 menu ideas ranging
many exhibitions held at the Akademi."
masterpieces. In the case of Prodosh Das
A show of this magnitude is not about
from stews to salads, also features contri-
Das Gupta and Roy Choudhury were known
Gupta viewers are privy to his characteristic
numbers or expertise. It is also a landmark
butions from fellow health-conscious and
for their ingenuity in confabulating sculptures
egg-shaped bronze-and-metal creations in
link from a period of transformation when
environmentally friendly celebrities like
around the plasticity form, and the show de-
works such as Sun Worshippers, where
western art methodology was being
the singer Pink, actors Kevin Spacey and
rives its name Contours and Volumes from this
three standing egg figures have their faces
questioned by Indian artists at the dawn
Woody Harrelson and British fashion
essential standpoint of the duo's creative force.
upturned in a gesture of celestial worship.
of Independence. Over the fifty-year period
icon Vivienne Westwood. "The idea of one
Born exactly a century ago, Prodosh Das
In the numerous depictions of the mother-
of their creativity, these two artists devised a
meat-free day per week is something that
Gupta was a founder-member of the Calcutta
and-child theme, formed into images of
language of sculpture that would break
many people find do-able and something
Both artists travelled widely in
Group, a reaction to the imitative methodology
tactile smoothness and fluid lines, one
away from an imitative follow-up of western
that can be achieved relatively easily,"
of sculpting of the forties. After his initial train-
Europe and were influenced by
can see the influence of a western aesthetic
art to a more expressive and creative Indian
Sir Paul said. "Having been a vegetarian
ing at the Chennai and Lucknow schools of art,
on an eastern lyricism. The solitary egg
for over 30 years, I find it very simple
the masters of the era, such as
he moved to Paris and London. His protege,
form Genesis evokes a symbolic depiction
The exhibition is on at the Lalit Kala
and in fact, tasty and most enjoyable."
Henry Moore and Giacometti
Sarbari Roy Choudhury, trained at the MS Uni-
of the entire process of creation through
Akademi, Delhi, from April 1-13
Bok choy in oyster sauce, anyone?