While some believe it is an allegory, Noah’s Ark, according to Book of Genesis, is parked somewhere in “the mountains of Ararat”. For artist Sudipta Das, the boat — one that arguably protected Noah and the world’s animals from the mighty floods — is relevant to the current onslaught of migration world over. She has modelled it in paper pulp, sailing in turbulent waves, carrying the displaced under a cluster of whirling clouds. It is her interpretation (pictured) of American artist Edward Hicks’ famous oil Noah’s Ark and is on display at Delhi’s Latitude 28 gallery.
Not a mere allusion, it is also symbolic of Das’ ancestry, as she draws from her own identity as a fourth generation Bangladeshi migrant in India. “I have been brought up with thoughts of displacement. I also migrated from one place to another, from Assam to West Bengal and Gujarat, since my childhood. My works mostly expose the struggle between the ground reality and existential crisis,” she says.
The medium seems pertinent. The layers of fragile paper represent the precarious history. In her studio in Baroda, the 31-year-old covers wooden boards with paper and then layers them with pieces of paper in numerous dimensions to create textural variations. Dyed in tea, coffee and pastel water colours, the pieces represent different elements. “It is similar to how people used to make pickles, and put them out to dry in the sun. While I’m tearing paper, I am tearing a memory to make a new visual of it,” says Das. The title of the exhibition “The Surface of Memory” at Latitude 28 is an intimation. Reflecting on the turbulent times of today, Das weaves in personal history with universal concerns — almost a constant in her work since she completed her Masters in Fine Arts from Santiniketan in 2011.
Fascinated with reconstructed history, where numerous narratives co-exist, she deliberately obliterated the identity of national heroes such as Jawaharlal Nehru to Muhammad Ali Jinnah through pixelation between 2010 and 2011 so that the viewers would keep guessing. In Samadhi, a 2013 life-size installation, a man dressed in a royal attire wore boots with photographs of local people who served the king.
For the current exhibition too, she pored over writings on migration. The depiction, therefore, centers around the numerous migrants. If The Great Shifting is inspired by the iconic woodblock print, The Great Wave has followed legendary Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai.
In To Whom it May Concern some of these figures are crowded on the side, while others take a solitary journey in the waters. “The Memory” series is a reflection of the memories left behind. “Everything comes to memory, even what we choose to remember and forget. The land, too, is left alone. There are people, memories, culture associated with it,” says the artist.