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It is difficult to predict Arpana Caur for she is driven by spontaneity. Touching up her Buddha mural at Venkatappa Art Gallery wasn’t part of her schedule in Bengaluru.

In her one and a half-day visit to the city, she could only accommodate setting up the show at NGMA Bengaluru for her retrospective “Four Decades: A Painter’s Journey” and its opening. But then the senior artist thinks from her heart. So, there she was at Venkatappa Art Gallery on the morning of the day she was to fly back to Delhi repainting her mural.

“The mural had become dull. The work deals with Buddha, one of my favourite subjects and makes an important statement. I don't come to Bangalore often and just wanted to utilise the opportunity,” says Arpana.

That is Arpana Caur’s approach to art and life. Reaction and responses to the surroundings make up the oeuvre of this seminal contemporary artist. Extending this philosophy outside the canvas, she has led battles against illegal encroachments on a heritage building; set up a folk art museum to preserve some rare paintings and runs a vocational school for underprivileged girls.

Arpana was noticed by M.F.Husain who got her to participate in a group show in 1974. It was followed by her first solo in 1975 at Triveni Kala Sangam. Her retrospective at NGMA has a work ‘Outside the Blue Gallery,’ which belongs to this period. A few scantily clad human beings stand perplexed and huddled outside an art gallery in this painting highlighting the economic gap that separates people.

The retrospective features more than 100 paintings, sketches and prints done by the artist over four decades collected by Vijay Kumar Aggarwal. The retrospective is presented by Aggarwal’s Swaraj Art Archive, an outfit to document, preserve and showcase the family’s collection. “There are so many series from which I don’t have any works now. In fact, there are some I got to see after several years. Where would you find a patron like that? My works are also very dark. It is not easy to live with my art,” says Arpana.

The exhibition curated by Prarthana and Priyanka Tagore are divided according to themes like Buddha, Gandhi, 1984 massacre, Widows of Vrindavan, Dharti, Sohni-Mahiwal, Nanak and Kabir. Her rendition of Buddha is unique for it is only in her vocabulary, one finds a boney Buddha pointing upwards signifying enlightenment.

A one-hour film by Siddharth Tagore playing on the loop at the gallery also gives you an insight into her artistic process. Acutely aware of capitalistic society, growing consumerism and pressure on environment, time to time, Arpana finds different symbols to highlight these issues.

Scissors, scales, traffic signal, broom, basket and motifs from folk art become icons in her painting. “And so many of them get repeated. I may stop working on a subject but these symbols keep recurring. Husain used to call me kainchi,” quips the artist.

While scissors appear in her prakriti series often where Prakriti is depicted cutting the thread of life and also weaving it, scales can be seen in More Time Please, a personal series done after her bypass surgery in 2007 and once again in Love Beyond Measure, her contemporary take on the legendary love story of Sohni-Mahiwal.

In Sohni (oil, 2005), Arpana also uses a red light to denote the obstacles she faces during her journey to meet Mahiwal, her lover. For the artist, Sohni is courage personified.

Mahatma Gandhi is yet another favourite of Arpana and in the show hangs a very interesting work titled Ba depicting Kasturba Gandhi in her heart. The painting was made for a group show at LTG (Little Theatre Gallery), one of the oldest art galleries in Delhi, Nelson Mandela visited during his trip to India in 1990.

Widows of Vrindavan, World Goes On (a series based on 1984 massacre), Water Weaver are other seminal series which are represented in the show. It was for a poignant work from her World Goes On series that got her the Triennale Award.

A work that you can't come away missing is Resilient Green a triptych bought by the famous Japanese collector Masanori Fukuoka in 2013. The triptych echoes Arpana's concern for the environment.

(The exhibition Four Decades: A Painter's Journey, a retrospective of works by Arpana Caur, is on at NGMA Bengaluru till December 4)


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Printable version | Aug 3, 2021 2:51:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Cut-to-story/article16448481.ece

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