A new canvas for a new landscape

At the recently concluded 12th edition of Art Dubai, there was an addition of a new element - Residents. Out of the 11 artists whose works on display at the uber luxurious Madinat Jumeriah, fellow compatriot Poonam Jain was most appreciated. As the Indian component shrank in the contemporary section - Experimenter from Kolkata, being the only gallery from India in the contemporary section, the curiosity and appreciation for Jain came as a small consolation. All the 11 galleries from different parts of the world were invited to show a work by an artist each who would live and create works during their residency in Dubai. The idea was to see how an artist with a signature art practice responds to the surroundings and assimilates it into the oeuvre.

Jain was born and brought up in Bengaluru where her father runs a stationary shop in Yeshwanthpur. Soon after her education, Jain moved to Mumbai where she became part of Clark House Initiative. In Dubai, Jain found a thread of continuity to her drawings which were done in Mumbai. Jain has been responding to protests by residents against a developer demanding rehabilitation, through her drawings. “They were a kind of documentation of life in and around the site of protest and when I came here where everything was so prim and proper, I felt like bringing the dissent here. I started to document the landscape shift. The drawings became playful and I started adding elements to it like never before,” says Jain showing me the board with “Dharna 638” written on it in chalk. Held by the residents during a demonstration, this board planted the seed of the new series.

Jain’s show with 1X1 Gallery in the Residents section, was a mix of drawings and installations which arise from her interest in architecture, numerical vocabulary and feminist concerns but merged with her experiences of Dubai. The gallery has already sold five of these works to West-Asia based buyers.

It is difficult to overlook migrant construction labourers in the Gulf nations and Jain highlights it through the use of stones, labour card. The installation had stones with alphabets written on each and placed on a shelf. “When I came to collect the stones, some workers actually came up to me and asked ‘which company do you work for?’. Yes, I am an artist but I am working for a gallery with a deadline to meet so in that sense I felt I too, am an employee. I had two sets of jeans and green t-shirt which I wore every day,” says Jain. One set of her ‘uniform’ also hung in the booth. She also uses counting as a metaphor in the context of migrant workers in Dubai.

Fascinated by the language of numbers, Jain uses it to question ideas and beliefs. It’s more bewildering in the case of Jain because she wanted to be a nun, a very common practice in the community of Jains, she comes from. “But everything changed after I joined the art school. There I was questioning and unlearning,” The artist draws her love for numbers from her mother, an entrepreneur who is extremely good at maths and love for paper and books from her father. “As he runs a stationary shop, I was exposed to the world of books since I was a child. Also, it meant the material I wanted to use in my art was readily available.”

Describing her work as performative, Jain is happy with a slight shift in her art practice, all thanks to this outing in Art Dubai. “I wanted to change and explore new things so it becomes important for me in that sense,” says Jain who is now gearing up for her second art fair - Dallas Art fair with a New York-based gallery.

(The writer was in Dubai at the invitation of Art Dubai)

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Printable version | Jun 8, 2021 6:17:01 AM |

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