Of pain, healing and art

The need to recover from a rather painful medical condition took her to acupuncture. The needles repeatedly punctured her skin for days. Realising that a painful pin incision, done repeatedly over a period of time allowed for healing, made her start to look at pain differently.

“I found myself stimulated with this discovery. Furiously and almost driven, I started repeatedly incising and perforating large and small sheets of watercolour paper of varying sizes with sharp pins in my studio. As the perforations transformed the paper surface bringing life and beauty to it, I began to find deep solace in the act of pinning and transforming the paper. It was tough not to draw parallels between the repeated narrations of the partition stories of my parents and my working process. Pain and healing had become simultaneous,” says artist Manisha Gera Baswani about her solo after a decade “…and the dots connect now’ which recently opened at Gallery Espace in the national capital (on view in the gallery till May 10).

Baswani has been painting, sculpting and working on two major ongoing art projects for the last many years — ‘Artist through the Lens’, a photographic project of the last two decades where she intimately documents artists’ studios and denizens across the arts community from the Indians subcontinent, photographing them from a position of familiarity with their artistic practices and offering insights into their creative spaces and ‘Postcards from Home’.

It is an offshoot of ‘Artist through the Lens’, a partition project which documents 47 artists from India and Pakistan who share a history with the partition and have cross-border connections. They reminisce about a home lost. This project is a personal homage to her parents’ memories of the ‘home’ they lost when they came to India in 1947.

Many works in the current show are centred around the idea of healing. This body of work has fences, borders, human organs and imagery that delves into memory and nostalgia. The fences are likely also an allusion to the ‘Partition’, a subject close to her heart, and the centre point of her photo project ‘Postcards from Home’.

Several works in this exhibition were probably taking shape even as she was working on ‘Postcards from Home’. While she has been missing having a solo, the artist smiles, “I work organically and when my heart and head together give me a consenting knock, I listen to it. I was ready for it and that is why it is happening now.”

In fact, she has been quite active and showing her paintings and both projects at various important group shows over the last 10 years.

These two projects in fact have been shown at some major biennales — the Kochi Biennale 2014 showed ‘Artist through the Lens’ as invited collateral.

The year 2017 saw her partition project ‘Postcards from Home’ being shown at the inaugural Lahore Biennale, and also at the 2017 Kochi Biennale by KNMA. The Karachi biennale invited her to participate where she showed a huge eight-foot-high feather sculpture.

A painter, photographer and occasional writer — do all these interject for her at some point? Baswani says that for the longest time, she herself wasn’t sure how they connect within her.

“I would ask myself how is painting connecting with my photography projects and then would tell myself they don’t have to. I think it was when ‘Postcards from Home’ was born that I realised that my photography and my practice had come together rather organically. This current body of work has many works with the underlying theme of partition. They have come from my partition project; from the stories, I have heard not just from my childhood but from friends across the border.”

“Writing is also beginning to enter my work through embroidered words. As I exhibit my works during this solo, I feel that all three practices of mine are coming together. But I must add that I was as comfortable when they weren’t. At that time, I saw them as three passionately independent practices. Sometimes, the penny drops and I think it just has.”

(Sukant Deepak can be contacted at sukant.d@ians.in)




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