Published in ARTIndia, Volume 7, Issue 1, Quarter 1, 2002, pp. 64

Yashodhara Dalmia focuses on Arpita Singh’s recent mural Wish Dream which reflects a meditative quality occasionally stained by the colors of violence.

Arpita Singh’s room-sized mural, which was recently inaugurated in New Delhi, brings many strains in her new work to a fusion and elevates it to a new level.

The pivotal axis of the painting is the central figure of a woman in white whose voluminous body seems to hold the conflicting and multiple forces together. The surrounding blue-robed women form a circle of energy around her negotiating the route to her and in figure of a suited man below counteracts the figure in blue on top where both seems to be aspects of each other. Once again the man in the blue suit acts as a pivot for the flux of events around him. The woman sitting on the white lotus below forms yet another Centre of concentrated energy.

The mural Wish Dream made for Ladakh House and commissioned by Barista Coffee Company (oil on canvas, 23’× 11 by 13’× 3”) echoes the Buddhist Thangka paintings on cloth. The Thangka with its infinitely varied and complex pantheon of Tibetan Buddhism essentially signifies the embodiment of ideas and not the idealization of facts. In Singh’s work the mythic and the real are but aspects of the same principle. The hieratic figure at the Centre echoes the iconic form of the Buddha whose meditative aspect is replaced by the active principle of female energy. Singh replaces the celestial river with its many dragons, sea animals, and boats by the flowing iridescent blue water. At the same time she also sees the vast assemblage of events as taking place over a crumpled bed sheet and the pink lotus as nothing but a ruffled pillow. The lotus signifies purity in the Buddhist cosmogony but the fact that it is also a pillow allows the seamier side of life to exist alongside. Thus the flow of events could be taking place in the passage of time and conversely in the nocturnal mindscape where wish fulfillment and dream form significant elements.

The body of the central woman in her iconic form is enhanced by the dark limbs of the man entwining her from behind, thus providing her with four arms. The woman is not in the prime of her life but middle-aged and vulnerable and the man’s arms protect her from any violation. The middle-aged woman in her authenticity and allure defies notions of the seductive woman who remains central to the male gaze. The dark-suited man below echoes an earlier painting where the figure of Durga with a pistol in hand had created a controversy (made for Desh, Bengali weekly, 1993). In this painting once again the supine figure evinces contemporaneity in his clothes, but the fact that he is also giving birth to another man evokes a somewhat hallucinatory futuristic quality.

Are we then talking about womanpower? Singh herself has never consciously made a statement about this in her paintings. As she says, “I begin by painting a figure and it turns out to be a woman”. So the term “feminist painter” doesn’t mean much to her. According to her she paints her experience and since they are of a woman they are a woman’s painting.

For the last many years, however, the primeval woman has entered her paintings where nudity for her has meant not seduction but an archaic quality without any interference. The lineage according to her has always been carried on by women for it is they who bear children and mould their essential character. The woman in this case is the one who installs creativity and the man is the protector. Thus, the Durga and Siva element here has both a contemporary and archaic connotation. Between the dramatis personae of her earlier work and the present there lays a degree of complexity, which elevates the work making it both intricate and open-ended.

The figure of Vishnu in the blue suit on top lying on the coiled bed-sheet/snake acts as the foil to the supine figure in black below. But there is yet another counterpoint in the figure with the gun on the left who is gyrating in a suggestive manner. The airy feeling is also kept in check by the militia men on top positioned on either side of the ascetic. One of them is dressed in a pink frock and with his lurid gestures attempts to lure woman before him. The heavens are surely set afire by the sound of guns for they seem to be rumbling from all sides.

For the past many years Singh’s works have reflected the growing violence, which threatens to overtake everyday life. The brutality of the 1984 Delhi riots had traumatized her and she returned to this theme ever since. She gives an account of how her husband belongs to the victimized Sikh community had been stranded at the railway station returning from Amritsar and had to wait for more than a day until someone could rescue him. Even here, the meditative quality is counteracted by the brutality, which overshadows all happiness.

The paintings are earthy and yet the somnambulistic flow of events unfolds like a dream before the viewer.

Published in ARTIndia, Volume 7, Issue 1, Quarter 1, 2002, pp. 64
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