SCULPTURE AS EPIPHANY: In this world of contemporary art, when factory-produced sculptures are dominating gallery space and mediatic realism is almost unchallenged in our imagination, Indira Purkayastha’s ‘Epiphany’ is a very important body of work to be showcased. Her works show us tangible alternative ways to imagine and articulate our world, our contemporary life, our anxieties and our nostalgia.
|Will as a Catalyst, Gourd & Wood|
At a time when cold conceptualism almost dominates mainstream imagination of visual arts, Indira Purkayastha’s sculptures show engagement with materials and narration. These engagements make these artworks important articulation of a different kind of contemporaneity, bringing into focus our continuing engagement with modernism. Her works carry a memory of our folk cultures and their visual language without being overtly derivative if those traditions. There seems to be inherent connect with folk traditions and their idea of sympathetic magic. Purkayastha’s forms and their silence speak of an artist who is aware of the forces and memories that inform her work and more importantly is in sync with their conscious altering possibilities in the face of contemporaneity.
‘Epiphany’ is a large body of work produced over seven years after she became an art teacher; it has been a long journey for the artist. Teaching exposed her to the power hierarchies of the knowledge industry, but also to the great power of the subconscious mind and the vast power in children to explore fantasies and create narratives, which are sincere and playful at the same time. ‘Epiphany’ contains many such explorations and stories of power, play, inspiration and fantasies. The show is a rich container of an adult’s struggle to imbibe to experience and articulate the emotions of children in a representational form.
Purkayastha’s works not only are a response to her relatively new life experience as a teacher, but it also connects her to the nostalgia of her bygone days. As a child, she grew up in the hills of Chhattisgarh playing with adivasi children. This experience grew seeds inside her, which grew to always connect her with notions of purity and a beautiful sustainable relationship with the environment that comes to as an almost primordial language. Possibly, her love for the subconscious innocence, the playful, the narrative took roots within her during her childhood and her experience in teaching art to children re instigated her memories buried deep within the pressures of a grown-up urban life and art school education. This enables her to develop a critic of contemporary culture.
Picassos words “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” is something Purkayastha identifies with deeply. Her relationship with Picasso goes beyond their delight at the strong, emotive, pure forms of ‘child art’. One can see a certain knack for geometric formalism in her works, her incorporation of the visual language of tribal masks, paintings and woodwork. Like Picasso, she goes into the world of tribal art and child art in search of a language that will enable her to articulate her critique of the present.
As an artist, she has always been interested in giving aesthetic forms to abandoned objects and accidents. She began doing collage at the age of fourteen and since then her works continue to be inspired by what she finds around her. Slowly as a sculptor, she began to use abandoned wood, furniture using them as starting points for her imagination in her quest to give visual form to her life experiences.
Working from a far away rural setting, her connection with primitivism is very strong and it deeply informs the installation oriented, simple, geometrical and bold sculptural language she works with. The work ‘Fantasy’ (2016, Gourd, wood & metal scrap, approx. 50 x 95 x 135 cm & 50 X 82 x 115 cm each; reflects an artist who is immersed in trying to articulate the intersubjective response through which modernity classifies humans and enforces subjecthood onto them. The sculptures thus form a deliberate alignment with elements in the adivasi imagination, which is at the same time a tool for pushing the constructed boundaries of reality enabling her to create fantasies of altered contemporanity.
|‘Assembly of Angels|
Though storytelling, play and improvisation are important to her art practice, yet, that does not limit her worldview and imagination. She is capable of carefully crafted Kafkaesqe nightmares. ‘Assembly of Angels, (2016, wood & metal scrap, 15 x 3.5 x 3 ft.), shows a factory-like building possibly representing an institution. One conveyor belt goes through the building, on which baby ants are entering into the building from one door and coming out from another door of the building like grown-up robotic ants. The work is deeply disturbing even as it is beautiful forcing us to be engaged in this startling critique of the education system. The work Untitled (2016, wood scrap metal & fibreglass, 33.5 X 4.5 X 8.3 ft.), too is a grim take on how power operates inside education systems, the temptations how power and how it tarnishes young souls that go through its structure.
The scale and execution of the body of works that show in ‘Epiphany’ speak not just of life experiences, imaginations and deep inspirations, they also contain a deep engagement with skill and sculpture making. The eastern part of India has a long history of working with discarded wood, entering the fantasyland of children; it is a land of wooden dolls and adivasi totems. Yet, through all this her deep training in sculpture at the Banaras Hindu University comes through the idea of outdoor, the idea of large-scale, focus on skill, execution and craftsmanship all carry the inspiration of the legendary Balbir Singh Katt and the values he instilled in his students. What makes Purkayastha special is her constant urge to improvise and narrate deeply social stories and concerns. Her ability to form her own language of feelings, the ability to conceptualize and craft the images that come out from within, and her constant struggle to manifest into sculpture what is often incomprehensible are the facets that form the cornerstone of her practice.