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Critic and Curator Uma Nair has been writing for the past 32 years on art and culture She has written as critic for Times of India and Economic Times. She believes that art is … MORE
With COVID-19 restrictions loosening worldwide, the inaugural edition of Frieze Seoul ( Sep 2nd-5th,2022 ) will see a deluge of events, gallery openings, and late-night excursions that reflect the vibrancy of the capital’s arts and culture scene. Led by director Patrick Lee, it marks Frieze’s first venture into Asia’s art fair circuit, and boasts a robust roster of international galleries while paying close attention to artists and institutions across the Asian diaspora.
India’s Vadehra Art Gallery a premium art institution of long standing brings to Frieze a small unveiling of South Asian women artists.At Frieze Seoul, Vadehras will be presenting important artworks by a suite of leading women artists from South Asia, including Arpita Singh, Nalini Malani, Shilpa Gupta and Anju Dodiya, along with exciting young artist Shrimanti Saha and Biraaj Dodiya.
Amongst these it is imperative to look at the works of Arpita Singh the figurative modernist, and Anju Dodiya the queen of the metaphorical narrative. Both artists use colour pastel on paper even as they expand the limits of paper in terms of scale and texture to create compositions that stand testimony to time.
Their works juxtapose delicate and seemingly spontaneous watercolour/pastel smudges and stains against hard-lined charcoal incursions.You can sense a signature of creative anxiety within their subjects.
Anju Dodiya’s stunning suite
Preaching Petals and Poem for an Octopus are a pair of stellar portraits that stand out for their expressionist elegance amongst the watercolour collages.

Simmering with thoughts of longing during the pensive solitude in the pandemic Anju Dodiya’s figurative works balance the power of composition with the psychology of experience. Preaching Petals is an evocative work that juxtaposes watercolour collage, charcoal and soft pastel on paper. It recalls memories of Anju’s work at Art Basel 2019 ,when she used shaped stains on fabric to create a quaint corollary of time fleeting and inevitable mortality.
In this work the monochromatic image of the woman is flanked by the petals defined by the truth of its fragmented nature.The work is not beautiful but poignant.The collage element foreboding the frightening and the macabre. Anju has always worked with powerful images that revel in the emotional theatre of an inner world. The second work Poem for an Octopus plays with metaphorical allusions.The feminine face speaks volumes in its gaze.The Octopus more than an element, more than an animated species.

Her female protagonist is most often assembled from popular mythologies and autobiographical fictions, which enter the realm of the imagination through a kind of felicitous discovery. Much of the emotion in her mirrors deep resonance as they exemplify narratives of anxiety, artistic and otherwise. The most important feature of these two masterpieces is the vitality and tenor of colour which becomes the vortex where alternative realities are conjured.
In an email Dodiya explains: “ These small watercolour collages contain abbreviated emotional landscapes. ‘Preaching Petals’ is simply about the sensual and serene comfort of flowers. The power of mundane moments envelopes our life – a page one reads or a new coat…random moments that open memory files within us, starting a rapid ‘Emerald Orbit’ of thoughts.‘The dream of hills’ is perhaps not a surreal gesture, but about the vast possibilities of the mindscape within beds and pillows. ”
In an earlier interview she said: “ I am primarily an image- maker, and I want the viewer to be drawn in, to be gripped by the play of images. The temperature of colour, the hardness of line or the juxtaposition of shapes are attempts at precisely devising a web of interaction for the viewer. I trust her to feel a range of her own emotions. My meaning or narrative needn’t be hers. The references enrich the narrative or kick start the movements, but are not necessary for a private interpretation.”
Arpita Singh’s contemplative cadences
Arpita Singh finds beauty in the banal. She creates continuity through a play of varied combinations of colour, motifs, and forms, thanks to the association of disparate elements, which are for her pretexts for working on form.Two Untitled pastel on paper works sign in cadences of solitaire and contemplation.In a note last year Vadehras stated : ‘ Singh’s cartographical autobiographies assume new dimensions through an intensification of colour, accenting her imagined landscapes with the flourish of expressionist emotion.’

In these highly constructed compositions, one with a lone figure and another with a series, each space on the sheet of paper is articulated with recurring symbols inspired by daily life. The earlier floral patterns in her trajectory have been replaced by horizontal vignettes that look like rectangular forms.This is Singh in a chapter of soliloquy. The rectangular forms are white and some are coloured with pastel.The central figure of an old woman lost in melancholia creates a frame within the frame that initially protects the scene but that gradually opens up alongside inevitable invasive accumulation of time.There is a tension within the oasis of calm.

In the group of women against a fragmented turquoise foreground, Singh paints the range of emotions that she exchanges with these subjects – there are passages of pathways invoked by moods, perhaps even suffering to hope – providing a view of the ongoing communication she maintains with her characters from experience.
With compositions that herald a corollary of conversations within collective constraints, she creates a fictional mapping that unravels like a ‘think-scape’ capturing the constructs of space in quasi abstraction, as the feminine forms certainly elderly women who navigate the cultural fabric of time as a testimony to the lived idiom.Singh’s hallmark is her ability to personify questions of time past and time present so pivotal to individual, personal as well as collective journeys.
Images Vadehra Art Gallery India
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Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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