Sensuality and rage, yearning and fortitude beam through torsos adorned with decorative motifs that intricately detail their contours. Selecting more than a hundred works created over the last three years, artist Kanchan Chander presents them as an “ode to womanhood”. “I see myself as a survivor, and express my experiences through my work. My idea of womanhood is inspired by the common woman who has desires and opinions but does not possess the confidence to express them. That is why the exhibition is called ‘Whispering Torsos’,” says Chander.
Chander’s preoccupation with torsos began two decades ago. Inspired by temple sculptures, she worked extensively on the physical form that gradually lost its head and limbs, till the trunk of the human body stood as a mutilated subject. “The torsos were monumental, minimal initially but are now bedecked and busy. As life went on, the torsos evolved. I thought my life has been so kitsch-like, so why not my art? The reason for limbs and heads to go was also because I didn’t want her to be identifiable. She could be a woman from anywhere — the problems, the atrocities are universal,” says Chander.
Canvases — vibrant and monochromatic — are wrought with textured lines and mixed-media objects that fluctuate between the mundane and the imaginative. Sequins, magazine cuttings, metallic leaf, buttons, swarovski, stickers and lace depict craggy, raw realities, while imbuing the works with a deep sense of equanimity. Part of the exhibition, which is on display at the India Habitat Centre’s Visual Arts Gallery, is a continuation of her series titled “Frida and Me” (2007-09). Influenced by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s work and a film made on her, starring Salma Hayek, who peaks through bespangled torsos, Chander creates mixed-media paintings and installations of torsos dressed in paper collages with pictures of her and Kahlo, suggesting a similar trajectory of experience.
“I have been following Kahlo’s work since I was a student and was deeply moved by it. The strong iconography in her work reflects the strength of the woman. I am just a drop in the ocean compared to her but much like her, I paint my reality and paint what I feel like without thinking about what the world might say,” she says. There are also two sculptures — of a male and a female torso — made using iron rods holding myriad household objects such as nuts and bolts, locks and keys, expressing the irony of gendered roles.
Several paintings and drawings in the exhibition are ascribed titles, and bear scribbles, of verses from old songs, such as “yeh zindagi usi ki hai, jo kisi ka ho gaya”, “woh kagaz ki kashti” and “koi lauta de mere beete hue din”. “I play music while working and hum along. So, the songs found a way of creeping into my work,” she says.
A set of 12 drawings of acrylic and charcoal on handmade paper forms the ‘Drawing Assemblage’, which takes this reminiscence of a time gone by forward with lyrics such as “pinjare ke panchhi, tera dard na jane koi”. With another series, ‘Que Sera Sera’, she looks forward to the life that is yet to reveal itself. “My life has been a series of somersaults and for me, it’s all about que sera sera — what will be, will be. The future is not for us to see,” says Chander.