Bent down to the ground, the little girl sculpted in wood is hiding under a helmet, coaxing the onlookers to wonder what plagues her. Artist Indira Purkayastha tells them she is just one of the several children escaping social and academic pressures. Titled Dreaming Inside A Shell, the child here is seeking shelter. “This is a child withdrawing from the overburdened environment and trying to escape constant expectations,” says the Raipur-based artist.
She dedicates her first solo in Delhi titled “No Child’s Play” to the pressures faced by children today. “We think children have no sense of the real world but they are aware. I am trying to present the perspective of children,” says Purkayastha, 49. The postgraduate in art from Banaras Hindu University, who studied under well-known sculptor Balbir Singh Katt, recalls her own childhood spent in the hills of Chhattisgarh, where she would play with adivasi children. “The memories have stayed with me. My sculptural language is informed by those experiences and the folk art and craft of Chhattisgarh,” she adds. She notes how her liking for the medium of wood is also perhaps influenced by the woodcraft of Bastar, apart from its textural quality. “I used to make collages as a child and during my graduation I began making shapes with wood pieces, pasting them together according to the different textures and colours,” says Purkayastha.
Teaching sculpture at Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan in Raipur and mother of an 18-year-old, Purkayastha notes how several works in the exhibition are based on her own experiences. If Gods Best Creation has shirts hanging on a stand to remind parents that the constant societal pressures inhibit the holistic development of children, in Dreaming of Dreams she has a child with angelic wings in a garden. “We should let children dream. As a teacher, I never tell children what to make, I let them imagine,” says the artist.
In the titular work, we see her daughter wearing Purkayastha’s saree. “I had huge expectations from my daughter when she was young and wanted her to do what I did as a child. She wanted to do her own thing and would explain her position to me through her play sessions,” says the artist. She sends the viewers back with a warning. In Assembly of Angels, the ants are metaphors for the future citizens. On a conveyor belt, each of them adhere to the norms and are tailored to fit the expectations, suggesting how both people and the education system fail to encourage individuality. “Here I compare children to robots. They face constant terror,” says Purkayastha, forewarning a graver future if the present is not improved.
The exhibition at Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Center, is on till August 7