“Why do I draw?” Nandini Bagla Chirimar, a New York based mixed media artist, echoes my question with a peal of laughter, her eyes shining behind her neon pink glasses. “My art is a personal diary of my life—as a mother, daughter, home-maker and Indian artist living in New York—a lot of it is autobiographical,” she tells me, sipping her mint lemonade, her head slightly tilted in reflection.
“I would call them a visual form of my daily thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings are not ‘real’, right? They’re just there in our heads and hearts. But once I give them a visual form, they become tangible. I feel like I have created a new reality, a reality of the inner me.” We are in a tea cafe in Lower Parel, having just had a dekko at her piece currently exhibiting in The Loft, Mumbai.
Nandini’s work is unlike any I have seen before. It is acutely personal, layered, and uses a mix of mediums and techniques to create an inimitable form of ethereal beauty. And depth. It takes the viewer deeper and deeper into an unseen world, and as you mentally peel away the gossamer thin layers of Japanese Kozo paper covered with paintings, etchings and drawings stacked upon each other, it unveils a reflected world in ourselves. Through her personal experiences one ends up exploring larger phenomenon which none of us are immune to—migration, identity, relationships, grief, death, and memories.
Constantly experimenting, her art opens up new worlds in the literal sense. And I say this not just in terms of her personal stories she recounts, but the way she chooses to tell them.
Take for instance her “How Many Ways am I Tied to You?”, a carefully laid out series of thousands of knots in Moli and Janeu threads on muslin fabric which explores the multiple nuances of personal relationships. You could undo one knot, but there are still countless others, each a manifestation of the manifold ways in which two people are tied together. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
[Note: Top image: Crossings, Etching, pencil, pen, collage and 23k gold leaf on Japanese Kozo paper, mounted on Somerset paper; 12.5 inches X 17.75 inches .]
And then there’s “Diary of a Modern Leaf” where Nandini takes one on a sojourn of greenery and climate change and the dark side of urbanization. What first appears as a profusion of flourishing leaves, on closer study reveals sections of a natural world on the verge of decay. The stark pencil line on handmade Japanese Kozo natural fibre paper brings to life nature’s pristine beauty, as well as its fragility.
“Drawing is my favourite medium. I keep going back to it,” she explains. “There is a purity to pencil and line on white paper … it is the most basic process of making art.” Her “tool kit” comprises around 15 mechanical pencils of different thickness which she uses with varied pressure depending on the exact line she wants to create.
When not drawing, her work makes use of etching, aquatint, collograph, woodblock printing, chine colle, watercolour, thread, collage, and gold leaf on Japanese Kozo paper to tell her stories. The palette is just as distinctive. A lot of white and reds and pinks. The pinks, a subconscious memory of the place she grew up in, she admits—the pink city of Jaipur.
One of her most poignant works, and my personal favourite, is “Crossings”. It is a lyrical piece where Nandini takes her penchant for mixed media and layering to talk about her journeys between two countries separated by 11,766 kilometres—India and the US. Journeys that are often wrapped with thoughts of people and places she would be seeing, those she was leaving behind, and those who are no more.
Nandini and I met in first year Art College in Delhi. We used to hang out in the same group. She left after two years for the USA to complete her BFA in Drawing and Painting from Cornell University. This was followed with a residency at Skowhegan School of Art, and an MFA in Painting from The Hoffberger School, Maryland Institute College of Art. Since then her work has been exhibited in both group and solo shows globally and in India.
A resolute learner, she spent four years in Japan studying woodblock printing from Taika Kinoshita and also trained under Dhiraj Choudhury, Arun Bose, and later Vijay Kumar. Taking her learnings full circle, she currently teaches Japanese woodblock printing and experimental printmaking, among other things, at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, Manhattan Graphics Centre and her own studio. An impressive bio, to say the least, of one of the most innovative, yet grounded artists I know. She makes experimentations meaningful. 🙂
[All artwork images courtesy Nandini Bagla Chirimar]
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[Note: This post is a re-post. It was first published on ramaary.blog on 8 September, 2016. Due to COVID 19 restrictions, I am unable to generate new travel content. In its place I am reposting some of my favourite contemporary Indian artists’ works which I had blogged about earlier.]