For more than six years, Singapore-based Indo-British artist Kavita Issar Batra, during her early morning walks, has been enamoured by everything she has found on the footpath pavements or in parks. Right from the fiery red, yellow and orange leaves of autumn trees, twigs and withered flowers to even the footpath brick that has fallen out of path and discarded wires. So it’s no surprise to spot the photograph of a handful of pigeon feathers, petals of mogra and fallen yellow leaves, assembled together by a street sweeper, at her latest solo in the Capital. Batra’s childhood game of playing Queen of Sheba with her mother, where the Queen would demand being brought sticks, leaves, pebbles and stones, also came in handy.
Having grown up in Nainital before moving to Delhi and Singapore, “No Number No Name” is her first solo in India, with over 80 paintings and photographs centred around the detritus seen lying on the roads, often trampled over or driven past. “Waste is a big issue I have an interest in. We do not pay attention to it because of our privileged backgrounds and are not very good in thinking about the products that we buy, and where they end up. They are building up in landfills and other sites, even as the kabadiwala tries to reuse some of it,” says the 49-year-old self-taught artist, adding, “We should be grateful to the ragpickers and sweepers who handle our waste; what would happen if they went on a strike and we were left with the waste?”
A photograph of a bunch of discarded roses, titled 7044, along with its petals sprinkled on the ground, as they befriend orange peels, disposed layers of peas, and leaves. A plucked out portion of a jute rope with a tiny wooden piece lying nearby in another frame titled 8976, looks like a hunched man looking at the moon, while the image of a tanpura player immediately strikes the mind after looking at 2151, a capture of a plastic remain circling around a leaf as its head. “These are colours, textures and are also about how they fall where they fall. They don’t have a choice, neither the ground on which they fall, nor the object that falls, yet they make these wonderful compositions,” says Batra, who consciously titled these canvases as a tribute to the innumerable invisible waste-collectors the world over.
After clicking photos of debris on her iPhone during her morning strolls, Batra — whose artworks lie housed in private collections in the UK, the US, Switzerland, Singapore and Australia — goes on and develops paintings out of them. She has made a choice of giving away 60 per cent of the proceeds from the exhibition towards the NGO Chintan, which works with and supports waste collectors. “Chintan creates awareness about sweepers and ragpickers who play an important role in our lives, but whom we tend to disregard. They help give them a sense of professionalism and pride in what they do,” she says.
Her association with Chintan has made Batra more aware of many of the problems faced by the waste-pickers. She says, “A lot of people don’t even say ‘hi’ and walk past them. A lot of these people who work for us end up being invisible like the detritus.”
Ask Batra what her favourite find has been and she points out at the little seed pods, standing out like a pair of earrings, in a jewellery box, among the other finds of dried leaves and flowers she has enclosed in jewellery boxes, and displayed at the centre of the gallery, as if they were valuable and precious finds. “They looks like ghungroos. I used to learn Bharatanatyam as a child and when I saw these in Panchkula, it was the first impression they left on my mind. A single portion of it looks like a baby rattle,” she says.