Kavita Issar-Batra looks for aesthetics in everyday objects

Kavita Issar-Batra  

Turning an artistic eye towards forgotten, unnoticed, trampled and discarded objects on streets and pavements, visual artist Kavita Issar-Batra transforms them into paintings, video art, photographs and installations in her studio. Daily walks through the city fuel her imagination as she collects what one would call ‘litter’ from the streets. A half-crushed flower, dried leaves, feathers, threads, crumpled paper, bark, mud, and even a chipped off block from a footpath – all find their way into the gallery as inspiration or art objects.

Developing ‘detritus’ into the theme for her debut solo exhibition in Delhi – No Number No Name, the Singapore-based artist explores the otherwise ignored and invisible aspects of our interaction with the cityscape. The exhibition is curated by Alka Pande and in collaboration with Delhi NGO Chintan, where a portion of the proceeds would be used to support waste collectors.

“If observed closely, one can see an entire landscape in a leaf,” says Issar-Batra, “This material that I come across on the road, is my library.” Working with a range of material and mixed media, from a regular A-4 size sheet to the largest painting so far being over 16-feet long, with substrates, plywood, canvas and high quality acid free paper, she prefers to explore organically without the end in mind.

“I allow the material to guide me, and my hands just respond to that.” Her work is process-led and open-ended, based on a corporeal engagement with the material. The resulting art works nudge the viewer to observe everyday objects in the environment more attentively and through the lens of artistic imagination, opening up the way for introspection and interpretation.

Simplicity is the hallmark of Issar-Batra’s work. “I am moved by imprints on the footpath,” she reflects, “Through my work I want them to be remembered in a different way, and not just vanish as they do, from the street and also from our minds.”

These imprints are alchemised into different textures on her canvas. The tree bark on a pavement, an egg-shell from breakfast, feather on concrete, a leaf on the road surface – these impressions are re-imagined on canvas as multiple layers with contrasting hues, often using gelli plate printing. Some emerge as photographs, without filters, pictured as artistic propositions that recover natural, organic material lying around, into still-life studies. The photographs form a series on Hahnemühle paper, titled simply with numbers.

The most striking work at the exhibition is the imposing three-panel mixed media on canvas –‘Ode to the Urban Indian Footpath’. While it can be easily recognised as the recurring pattern of the Indian footpath, from another angle it also looks like a stream of human torsos. “It signifies a celebration of the teeming mass of people who daily jostle along the footpaths in India, in a bid to eke out a living, to get somewhere or even simply live on them. Stumbling across this park a year ago, in a neighbourhood I spent some of my childhood, I felt time seemed to have stood still in it: most of the houses around it hadn’t been torn down to be replaced by monstrous apartment blocks, the beautiful trees, bushes and creepers had witnessed the years I have been away. It was the torso like tiles that, as I followed the path round, held my gaze captive conjuring up a vision of the human masses that make up our urban cities and lay just beyond the boundary wall.”

Issar-Batra is of Indo-British origin, she grew up on the hillsides of Nainital and then in Delhi. She went on to live and work in the UK for 20 years before moving to Singapore nine years ago with her family. Largely self-taught, she trained with British artist, James Holdsworth, and was later mentored by Australian artist, David Kelly.

Looking inwards

The installation at the centre of the gallery is another work that draws the onlooker inwards. Created in Delhi for the exhibition, it carries memorabilia, vintage objects in old trunks, and dried leaves and flowers in jewellery boxes. It brings together family memories, evokes precious moments and sparks off sepia-tinted experiences. The installation occurred by chance as the artist was rummaging through long-forgotten family treasures in Delhi.

Serendipity is the philosophy that she works and lives by. “The material I come across on the street has taught me about texture, shape, colour, value, tone, composition, botany, philosophy and a rhythm to life. It has become an alphabet to my thoughts and emotions as well as inspiration for my paintings. I document the ‘moment’ our paths intersect photographing with my iPhone camera to be able to respond spontaneously. Sharing these through Instagram and Facebook is about building community. Most images are taken ‘as found’; some a montage of the detritus that I might pick up (nothing is plucked or altered) placed on a painting in progress and then photographed. I do not photoshop as each is beautiful just as they are.”

Evocative, tender, nuanced and layered, No Number No Name promises to redefine our relationship with the environment as it provokes a mindful inquiry into our everyday interactions and offers a different way of looking at the mundane as a magical work of art.

(No Number No Name is on display at Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi till April 6, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.)

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Printable version | May 11, 2021 9:59:17 PM |

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