The capital is hosting two solo exhibitions by formidable feminine forces who are global citizens, but whose inspiration comes from the motherland—India. Rekha Rodwittiya and Sujata Bajaj are artists who exist at either ends of the visual spectrum, for while Rodwittiya is known for her fiercely feminist woman figures that dominate her canvases, Bajaj is one of the frontrunners of Indian abstraction. However, the fact that both artists draw their inspiration from Indian contexts, creates a bridge between their works that, in a way, maps the diverse spectrum of art that comes from the country.
They are both born in the same year and are champions of female energies in their distinctive ways, with a large body of work behind them respectively. Having to break out of the clutter of names in what is usually seen as a male dominated art scene, has meant pushing themselves, working for endless hours and not always focussing on family and home. Balancing these worlds with alacrity, these women seem to have it all—their place in the art world, and adoring children and husbands who have been quietly supportive. While they have had to stir the occasional curry and divide time between their studio and being a homemaker, they are relentless when it comes to pushing their own boundaries.Bajaj undertook the strenuous art of printmaking—that involves lifting heavy rollers and slaving over a zinc plate for hours. Meanwhile, Rodwittiya has the added distinction of curating exhibitions of fellow artists and mentoring a studio of budding young talent in Baroda.
Both artists have donated their works for various fund raiser auctions and they both command a fair price at the auctions. While Rodwittiya’s works have fetched between `1,50,000 and `25,00,000, Bajaj has clocked in at `1,90,000 to `30,00,000. Present this year at the India Art Fair, Bajaj is a firm believer that while the global art market might be seeing some fatigue, the Indian art market is still nascent, with loads of room to grow. Meanwhile, Rodwittiya has expressed often times the importance South Asia, with its colonial history, possesses on the global art map.
Rodwittiya’s solo exhibition, Love Done Right Can Change the World, opened at Vadehra Art Gallery today with much fanfare and will continue till March 18. Showcasing canvases and a few mixed media works painted over the last two years, it positions her at her current space of empowerment. “The works celebrate and recognise that designated territory, a rightful space, where the woman defines her own territory, her body becomes a metaphor for those reclaimed spaces. The personal and the collective swim in the same current,” she says.
Rodwittiya was born in Bangalore in 1958, but moved with her parents to Gujarat, where she currently lives with her partner, well-known painter Surendran Nair, and her son Mithun, in Baroda.
“My journey as an artist began in my last years of my BA, when I began to look at my own life experiences and I realised that my politics, my creativity and my philosophical thought had to stem from there. I would have to thread all my observations about the world to my own life,” says Rodwittiya. Her earlier works are marked by a sense of angst and explicit imagery that spoke of sexual violence, displacement and fracture. However, her journey led her to a space of empowerment and celebration, and while the issues around the female form still persist, they are expressed in her works in a more nuanced way. “I would see my work as a kaleidoscope of many fragments and strands that come together and become a pattern. They run into and challenge one another and the process of realising it is a complex one,” she says.
Her current body of work takes forward Rodwittiya’s constant engagement with issues of the body of gender and self representation. No doubt, the lines have become gentler and more lyrical, and she has embraced forms of ornamentation and beguiles the viewer into engaging with the works before she delivers her sucker punch. Over the years, the journey has been such that there is a loss of innocence but one reclaims knowledge. “One has moved from the child to the warrior, placing my figures within the montage of what belongs and what is repugnant to one’s self. You wear your experiences like a second skin that you cannot shed and it becomes your armour. I have always said that vulnerability is the other side of strength,” says the artist, who creates woman warriors who are surrounded by the mundane and the monumental. The male is referenced in absentia, as the works move beyond the female protagonist to embrace the larger gamut of humanity.
In the abstract
Sujata Bajaj is another global citizen who lives between Paris, India and Dubai. Her husband, Rune Jul Larsen, is Norwegian, which also takes her to Norway. Unapologetic about her convictions and beliefs, she always carries India as well as her cosmopolitanism wherever she is, but her paintings are rooted in her Indian identity. Her solo, which opened at the Habitat Visual Arts Gallery yesterday, will later move to the Art Alive Gallery in Panscheel Park (till March 30). It showcases a never-seen-before section of her works that feature the playful and spontaneous form of Lord Ganapati. “I used to make drawings and paintings of Lord Ganapati for the last 30 years, for my own pleasure. I have never shown these works, but it was the gentle persuasion of my husband Rune and my mentor Razaji.”
Bajaj’s parents were staunch Gandhians who were part of the freedom struggle. Born in Rajasthan in 1958, Bajaj, as a young girl, was highly influenced by the tribal art around her hometown. Later, she moved to Paris. “I met SH Raza when I was doing the last part of my PhD. I was interviewing him at the Jehangir Art Gallery after which he spontaneously wanted to see my work and we drove to Pune where my studio was. After seeing my work he said, “Come to Paris and experience the European art,”’ she recalls. She was so inspired that she applied for a French Government Scholarship, which she won in 1988. “I arrived in Paris in October and Raza came to receive me at the Paris station. He was my best friend for 19 years. I was lucky to be mentored by him. Although we never saw each other working, we have always discussed our works.”
Her earlier works, which were characterised by the simplicity and spontaneity of tribal art, began to give way to a more abstract expression. The wall, for instance, a recurring theme in her work, slowly melded into a swirl of cosmic colours by the 1990s.
“Before you gravitate towards abstraction, you have to be a strong figurative painter since it is the foundation, the beginning,” says Bajaj, whose works play upon forces of energy, evoking the cosmos, the sound of Om that is the sound of creation. “Sanskrit text gives me a sense of space as does colours like red and orange. For me it is a sense of continuity that is past, present and future. My collages use old texts from the Gita and the 17th century Modi Lipi. These characters possess a lot of vitality and positive meaning,” says Bajaj. Her use of line and the strength of her wrist that creates perfect geometrical lines and circles go back to an early learning experience. “I can use line with a sense of spontaneity because of my teacher, MR Kelkar, a great artist who taught me different techniques. He came over to my house with a thousand white papers and pencils. He gave me an exercise to create horizontal and vertical lines using no ruler, no eraser. It was only after practising for four months that I got that straight line without using any geometrical implements. Lines are so important because they provide structure and balance in paintings; they also represent opposite energies. Circles represent life, time and space, which have no end or beginning.”
“Sanskrit text gives me a sense of space as does colours like red and orange.
For me it is a sense of continuity that is past, present and future. You wear your experiences
like a second skin that you cannot shed and it becomes your armour. I have always said that vulnerability is the other side of strength”
Colours are equally important for Bajaj. “I live them, they are inside me and outside me. One day, I wanted a particular orange that I saw in my childhood in Rajasthan. I was searching for it and I found it in my cupboard one night, after emptying the entire contents. Red comes from black. I think this is the colour of everything you can think of—love, passion, blood, global warming, the universe. As Khalil Gibran so beautifully said, ‘Let me swallow the sunset and drink the rainbow’.
— indulge@ newindianexpress.com
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After her bachelor’s degree in visual arts at one of India’s premier institutes, the Maharaja Sayajirao University’s Faculty of Fine Arts (1981), Rodwittiya won an Inlaks scholarship that took her to study at the Royal Academy of Art (1984). She lived for a stretch in Thailand, showed and worked in the UK, and currently the US, but she always returns to India, to Baroda, where her inspiration and politics come from—the soil of her motherland that has shaped her unique feminist voice and her art.
Rekha Rodwittiya (1958) : She has held more than 20 solo exhibitions since 1982, and has shown in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Venice, Stockholm and most recently at the Aicon Gallery in New York
Sujata Bajaj (1958) : She has has held around 25 individual shows in India and over 20 international shows, and holds the ‘Raza Award,’ the Bombay Art Society Award and the Maharashtra State Art Award