Sunaina Bhalla’s works are a mix of traditional Japanese methods and textile designing.

What is a good work of art? Purists would say the one which engages you with its depth, raises your curiosity for its use of unusual symbols, and of course, pleases with its aesthetics. Now, the second question is, where would you place a work of art which engages you with its symbols and ‘tell-tale’ qualities but is rather young in its oeuvre. That’s where a young artist, Sunaina Bhalla’s works rest – between profound and petite and enigmatic and evident.

Her exhibition “In Search of Utopia” mounted at Gallery Alternatives, Gurgaon, provides a peek at traditional Japanese art methods which are then blended with techniques of textile designing.

Sunaina is trained as a textile designer in Delhi where she lived and studied till 1994, and then moved to Bangalore. Two years later, she was learning Japanese art forms especially Nihonga and Sonaire in Tokyo. Here she worked under a reputed Sensei (teacher) for seven years. Her ‘Nihonga’ works are an observation of daily life in Japan. But this exhibition is “dedicated to India and its religious, social and economic stature today,” says Sunaina.

And hence her “Ascension to Naught”, picture of a rising sun is partially laden with various religious symbols, Indian and Japanese. If on one hand it indicates “plight of religion”, on the other, it symbolises concord. The religious signs almost form the shape of a Manchurian Crane, which is again a recurring symbol in her works. “I use these rare birds as the symbol of peace, longevity, blissful marriage etc.,” she says.

Manchurian cranes

Her other work “In search of Utopia” has a flock of Manchurian cranes flying over all the countries from Afghanistan to Yemen. “Chaos” is world map divided into various squares hitting coins (wealth), religious icons, dark and light shades, animals writhing in pain, pieces of broken vase and so on.

Says the artist, who has group and solo shows in Japan, Singapore and Mumbai to her credit, “I didn’t learn Indian art but Indian textile designing. I blend textile designing technique (for instance, gouache on silk) with Nihonga (traditional Japanese style), and Soniore (ink painting) to communicate. My ‘Ascension to Naught’ is an example of India shining economically but suffering from religious issues, similarly “Chaos” denotes human rights violation and war-like situation etc.”

Another interesting aspect of Bhalla’s art is free, unemployed space. Being in Japan, how could she be untouched by Japanese tradition of Haiku poetry which is short with a lot of space in between, as well as Noh theatre (traditional musical drama performed wearing masks with lot of empty space on the stage)? Her work, hence, is a fine blend of innocence and maturity.

(The exhibition concludes on October 19)

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