Overlooking the 15th century Arab Ki Sarai, Arpita Singh has an unhindered view of the surrounding greens from her Nizammuddin home. The interiors reflect the aesthetics of the outdoors — the walls host a Lucian Freud etching and Pablo Picasso linocut alongside a Nalini Malani. There is husband Paramjit, his mystic landscapes coated with thick pigments; Arpita too — her vibrant palette teeming with varied motifs.
“We worked within the parameters drawn by ASI, with only minor renovations in the structure of the house. It’s still a green neighbourhood,” says the artist. It is this vivid and vibrant setting that perhaps reflects in her art. “Everything I do affects my work,” says the 78-year-old, as she settles down to discuss her oeuvre since the ’50s, when she joined the Department of Fine Arts in Delhi Polytechnic. Her husband, Paramjit Singh was a year senior. The faculty comprised Sailoz Mukherjea and Biren De, each of whom she still sees in her work.
The exhibition at Lalit Kala Akademi “Other Narratives/ Other Structures” accompanies a fellowship from the institution. Comprising select works, it spans the early ’60s, when Singh was a member of the handloom board, to recent unseen works with maps of territories familiar and unfamiliar. There is the entire paraphernalia — ducks, butterflies, billowing curtains, aircrafts and guns. Fairies and flowers are recurring since her first solo at Kunika Chemould Art Centre in Delhi in 1972. Surfaced with gentility are social and political concerns.
A day before the opening of the exhibition, some works were still to arrive but Singh is calm. It’s a trait she shares with her protagonists, be it female nudes or men in suits or middle-aged women with plump bodies, the latter elevated to goddess-like status in her work. “I’m scared of making the figure large directly, I think I’ll lose control. So, I start from a small figure and then expand it and therefore it appears flabby and loose,” she says. The celebrated phase of abstract in the mid ’70s too was experimentation. “I was facing technical problems and needed to understand a few things before I did any more figurative work. It was like practising handwriting,” she says.
The monumental Wish Dream — a mural based on the Tibetan version of Ramayana that fetched Rs.9.6 crore at the Saffronart auction in 2010, and broke several records — is not part of the exhibition due to its sheer size (16 panels, 24×13 feet), but its reproduction is. Meanwhile, more myths and mythologies are being unfolded in Singh’s studio. A commissioned work is underway, an unfinished narrative in her studio has Sita, her story.
The exhibition at Lalit Kala Akademi, Rabindra Bhavan, 35, Ferozeshah Road, is on till October 24