Suhasini Kejriwal | Everyday weird3 min read . Updated: 05 Apr 2014, 12:22 AM IST
Artist Suhasini Kejriwal's solo show asks if we notice the surreal street life of our cities
When Suhasini Kejriwal left Kolkata, the city in which she had lived all her life, for New York in the mid-1990s to get a degree in fine arts from Parsons The New School for Design, she couldn’t have anticipated the shock of return, and the speed with which the familiar becomes strange. Like any clever undergraduate, she turned to Sigmund Freud.
“Unheimlich (uncanny)," she says, early in our interview at the placid Nature Morte gallery in leafy Neeti Bagh, near Siri Fort in south Delhi. “The familiar becoming unfamiliar, I would walk on streets I’d always walked on but things had changed. I didn’t have an outsider’s view, but there was a new distance." We are speaking in the lull before the storm of late night activity required to put up a show in time for the opening party. Kejriwal’s solo, Eden, opened on 22 March.
Kejriwal is slight, small even in her heels, and frets about her picture being taken. She was part of a group exhibition at Nature Morte in Delhi in 2012 but it’s been several years since her last solo in the city and her work, she says, has changed. “It’s too simplistic to talk about ‘inner worlds’ and ‘outer worlds’ because it’s not that sharp a distinction, but in my current work there is a literal looking out at the streets, at where you live, and taking that as a starting point to then see how that affects you psychologically, rather than what my work was doing before, which was looking at art history, looking at fantasy, at those sorts of things to create a fiction."
At first glance, the nub of Kejriwal’s style, the density of her paintings, has not changed. She still crams her large canvases with a cornucopia of surreal detail and, when they’re not black and white, with vivid colour. But what were once fecund jungles, the tangled vegetation and fantastic creatures of a fertile imagination, are now the overpopulated, overburdened streets of Kolkata. As with so many Indian cities, all life spills on to the tarmac, the public and the private swirl together until it’s difficult to distinguish where one begins and the other ends. This is familiar territory for Kejriwal. Her paintings have always been dense, the eye unable to find repose, a point on which to rest.
The title of the show, Eden, is not necessarily ironic, a knowing reference both to lost paradise and the hurly-burly, the sprawling chaos of the city’s gloriously terrifying cricket ground. There is much that is wondrous, that is beautiful, that Kejriwal finds in undeniably squalid Kolkata. Perhaps, given her education in art at both Parsons and Goldsmiths, University of London, UK, Kejriwal is even gesturing at Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights and its sense of intoxicating, bewildering plenty.
It’s the kind of reference she might find amusing. As with all artists, Kejriwal is engaged in a conversation with the history of art. She may be painting a Kolkata scene, three crows, for instance, in the foreground as a grand, dilapidated building looms in the background, and in the same painting, work in an oblique nod to Auguste Rodin’s The Three Shades. “It’s very organic to painting, to reference one artist’s work and come back to your own. It’s a little joke of my own, but I enjoy this conversation with other artists. Art has a language of its own."
The centrepiece of Eden is not a painting but a sculpture, an 8ft-high pyramid of fruit, toys and refuse. It’s not art made from found objects, a sort of Indian Watts Tower; instead Kejriwal and her team of craftsmen have painstakingly made all the objects in the pyramid with fibreglass and acrylic paint, a marvel of precise detail and colour.
In Indian cities piles of fresh glistening fruit can be sold on the street close to a mound of garbage; a child’s bright toy can catch the eye among a pile of rotting vegetables and plastic bags. Everything exists cheek by jowl—birds, trees, animals, fruit, garbage and people. Our cities, in a sense, are monuments to an unvarnished, overwhelming life. No wonder we feel the urge to look away, to roll up the car’s windows.
Eden is on till 26 April, 10am-6pm (Sundays closed), at Nature Morte, A-1, Neeti Bagh, New Delhi. The prices of works range from ₹ 4 lakh-40 lakh.