Tucked in a corner of Delhi’s Vadehra art gallery, artist Praneet Soi stands before his painting, September. He pauses for a minute and helps the onlookers absorb a glimpse of his psyche and issues that affect him, as he describes his artwork. The memory of the 9/11 attacks, the incident that not only changed the New York skyline forever, but also left a deep imprint on his artistic oeuvre 15 years ago, is one such incident. The blue and black strips running parallelly on the canvas, turned into a motif, depict the architecture of the iconic twin towers. A screaming yellow face drenched in shock beside it. “During the incident, I was on my way to study at University of California in San Diego. The incident changed the way people like me — students and migrants — thought of our situation where we were constantly facing visa and travel issues,” he says, as he introduces his latest exhibition “For and Against the Narrative”. In the same frame, he has painted images from a newspaper revealing the current unrest in Turkey, the flowers and car visible from his studio in Amsterdam and his wife’s eyes. “These are different aspects put together on a canvas to show viewers what I am really interested in. It is a way of pulling in from my everyday experience,” says Soi, 45, who divides his time between Amsterdam and Kolkata.
The 13 paintings, comprising linen-based frames and mixed media on paper board, reveal the artist’s move into “the seclusion of the studio and himself”, after a series of collaborations. For his previous solo exhibition “Srinagar”, for instance, at Gallery Experimenter in 2015, he had worked with local craftsmen from the valley to create geometrically-patterned papier-mache tiles, that symbolised Srinagar’s strong cultural history. “This time, I wanted to create a body of work that strikes a conversation on the way I have been looking at images in the last three to four years. I do this by observing the traditions of artists. For instance, artists from Shantiniketan observe the world around and create motifs. That’s a political act and I wanted to explore that notion and comment on how the world is like today,” says the artist.
Soi’s painting Ashraf Ghani Outlines His Vision puts the spotlight on one of the speeches delivered at Washington DC and New York by Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani. In the speech, Ghani spoke at length on how he hoped the future of Afghanistan would be. Handwritten fragments of the transcribed speech appear next to the president’s portrait. “Ghani said, ‘We don’t really have people building industries or investing here’. He mentioned that South Asia is going to be connected more and more economically and logistically, and if that happens, Afghanistan will be at the centre as a transit country, since everything will have to pass through it. He hoped the economy would focus on this instead, while admitting that they were a criminal economy’,” says Soi.
What appears like a cut out of one among the many high-rise buildings dotting the everyday urban landscape of Gurgaon is Architectural Study. Delving into the title of his show, Soi mentions how viewers have often asked him as to what ties all his artwork together and if there exists an underlying narrative. “My answer is I don’t know. I try to get my language as much as possible into my work. It’s now up to the viewer to decide,” he says.