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Indian artist sisters' unique journey

Uma Nair takes a peek into the work of internationally renowned art siblings, Amrit and Rabindra Singh.

india Updated: Mar 11, 2006 18:32 IST
Uma Nair
Uma Nair

Duplex minds merged in a cultural tango-artists Amrit and Rabindra Singh were born in London and now live in Wirral. In 2002, they were artists in residence for the Commonwealth Games. The Smithsonian's Sikh Art Gallery, has 3 worksby the Singhs at the the inaugural show.

Over the years their work includes paintings of sports stars such as David Beckham, Venus Williams and Prince Naseem. Their works "Painting the Town Red and O come All ye Red" have alsoreceived rave reviews abroad.

The Singhs' works are like little jewels, narratives that are built around satire and inherently reflective of the contemporary lifestyles of people today. Their newest commission is an enticing topic called "Digital Divide".

Their show of 10 paintings and prints opens to art-lovers at Anant Art Gallery in Delhi.

Entwined in the residual rhythms of artistic insight, born of the struggle to find an inventive idiom, this is a historic testimony to a pair of twins who dress identically (bangles, jhumkis, kurtas andhandbags), and work together - they seem like soulmates in communion with their art and the world they want to reflect.

   A creation of the Singhs

"When we were studying Western art history at our University we were actually appalled at the hypocricy of the entire system. We learnt about the fathers of Modern Art, interestingly most of them were influenced by Japanese or Persian painters, the east was an important element in inspiration; and yet we were being told all the time that we could not be influenced by our own heritage.

Our heritage is so rich, it is vast in terms of the size of aesthetics that it offers. We found it somewhat insulting because it seemed more like a prejudice. Only Western art counted and nothing else mattered.'

"When we began to work we decided that we had to challenge existing stereotypes in Modern Art and we wanted to redefine narrow perceptions of heritage and identity".

Years ago Francis Newton Souza told me in an interview in 1999, "In art you have to mess around with perceptions,you have to break norms, otherwise how can you create? 'Souza's words echo through this corridor of thought as you place the creative strategies of the Singh twins in this show.

Fired by the determination to counteract "Western ideals of acceptable art" and inspired by the intricate marvels of Mughal miniatures, the Singh twins' 21st solo in the capital city of Delhi brings a landmark exhibition that spells and echoes the importance of finding a novel sensibility, a unique creativity and reflecting a curious affair between contemporary reality and the miniature tradition.

For the first time in their works there is a single figure in "Poppy and Forget me not",almost a modern day Aphrodite like symbolism as a sensuous woman with a pendant dangling astride a low slung back, holds a little frame of a man in one hand, and the forget me not like flower in the other.

Her odhini billows in the wind and the antique flavoured jewels add a touch of vintage intricacy.The frame is embellished on one side by a set of vermillion poppies at the bottom of which sits a red dragon.

The moon at the top presents lunar influences of astral romance and it is the portrait of the impassioned woman in quest of the eternal wait that positions this work so charmingly between yesterday and today.

Singular and significant this work seems more like a classic.

Astute critics of their own works the twins maintain everything comes through a process of collaboration so as to ease out the complexities of contradiction.

Initially put off by western ideology, they took to miniatures by studying from books and art all over Britain. Other inspirations range from the Catholic iconography of their convent school days to fairy-tale illustrations by Edmund Dulac (Hans Christian Andersen and The Arabian Nights), art nouveau and the Pre-Raphaelites.

Their early works revolved around the family but this show sees an evolution in subject and content that goes past the family.

The show of actually revels around spices,flowers and fruits. Pomegranate unveils a hallucinatory magic of sorts, it's almost like a lantern show of Indo-Western culture.

An extraordinary cast of characters ranges from women to a girlish maidens in regal finery from swaying dressed up border like processions to brimming fiesta tonalities skim the show. The bodies of their subjects are alive with animated references, their gestures signal a world of mysterious ritual, and the plangent accompaniment of flowers and fruits turns this piece into a fantasy beautifully weird and unpredictably sensual in gaze.

Each work in this show is more like a little tale that gets fabulously staged and expertly performed in the detailing of borders and the dense wheeling dialogue between movement of subjects and the quality of colourative texturing in the density of light,the show reflects the extraordinary ability of collaborative and co-operative vision between the two sisters.

"Art must look beyond,it has to move beyond personal psyches to contemporary characters and contemporary setting and transcend cultural barriers. We are trying to do just that" is their reply to what is the role of art in the post modern scanario.

First Published: Mar 07, 2006 16:59 IST