Tarini Sethi acknowledges that most people are conscious of their bodies and it is this perceived discomfort that she wants to address. To this end, the Delhi-based artist embarked upon a “word-image” project a year ago, wherein she invited people through social media to send her a photograph of themselves “in the least amount of clothes as possible”. She assured them that in exchange, she would draw them in a manner where their identity won’t be disclosed. “It was not meant to be a flattering portrait but a representation that is jarring, and possibly uncomfortable,” says Sethi. A graduate in art from Pratt Institute, New York, she has exhibited in the US and her last show was in Delhi in 2016.
Within weeks, the images started popping in her inbox. The entries ranged from women in their twenties to sixties, and a handful men as well. “I had expected more men to be sending images but that wasn’t how it was,” she says. With a set of 40 photographs to choose from, Sethi, 27, started working with her pen.
“Even I was a bit uncomfortable when I got the first few photographs. Initially, with the people I knew, I tried to separate myself from them but later I realised I could use my knowledge of them as groundwork. For instance, I added plants for someone who I knew liked plants,” says Sethi.
She has titled the exhibition of these works as “Of Flesh and Fog”. “It refers to our bodies and the mystery and drama that surrounds us,” says Sethi. The individual ink works are put together in the series “Enemy-Friend-Lover”. None of her protagonists wanted to conceal their identity. So she has a bespectacled Delhi girl, Anwesha Choudhuri, naked on her bed reading “about sex gods”, while Sethi’s roommate from New York, Hannah Rose, is seen tying her hair in a bun, with several potted greens around.
In another series “Tinder Gods of India”, the men dominate. Sethi takes photographs of men from Tinder, a popular dating app, and has them flexing muscles or posing as god, holding weapons, musical instruments and seated on animals. She also paints a “hallucinated paradise”, in the series “Utopia”, where “the divine and the damned dance with reckless abandon”. Patches of watercolour float over figures and floral sketches. “Insecurities, self-image issues and judgement do not exist here,” says Sethi.