Arpita Singh’s art is not easy to get under your skin. At the Vadehra Art Gallery, her sketches, spanning more than 15 years, have been displayed over two floors and give an insight into her as an artist. Curiously, her sketches don’t seem ageless; while the subject varies, there is a uniform tone of expression that continues like a thread between all her otherwise disjointed subjects on canvas. Singh as an artist has a deft hand, marking each subject in her unmistakable style. A requisite of Arpita Singh’s art is her ability to draw the audience in with her enigmatic sketches without revealing too much with her
A collection of 45 sketchbooks, with over 60 watercolours and sketches, represents her process as an artist: some of her sketches and watercolours seem to still have room to evolve, part of an alive, breathing entity that has scope to metamorphose in her conscious. Apart from her sketches, some of her origami is also on view, and carry forth the stoicism of the sketches. The subjects of her sketches are more difficult to get to: they are often conceits, only revealing the fact that it is a reference to a personal anecdote that her immediate audience is not aware of. Context, however, is not what Arpita Singh is willing to provide, pushing her audience to think without its assistance, in the hope, perhaps, that they seek a universal reaction to what is etched in front of them. It could even be that she expects each participant viewer of her art to have an unspoilt, unguided subjective experience, and hence the reticence in expression.
Many figures, especially those of women, fill up the walls of her sketchbooks and the gallery. It has been said that her sketches represent the woman’s perspective of everyday life, but this reviewer thinks it is much broader than that, her figures are universal in their ennui. These figures, typically, can be understood only from their expression: sketched in the nude, they’re devoid of markers of social and worldly signifiers. The figures are often contorted, in a passive expression of escape, and seem disconnected, drawn with her signature disjointed technique of sketching lines and forms. Text has been scribbled over some of her more recent sketches. Arpita Singh has thought about the presence of words in her more recent works and said, “In art school, we could not afford that many sketchbooks. We could only afford magazines, and we would scrawl over them; I think I think that habit has stayed with me.”
Context, however, is not what Arpita Singh is willing to provide, pushing her audience to think without its assistance, in the hope, perhaps, that they seek a universal reaction to what is etched in front of them.
Some of the sketches, such as Aman with a Cup, or Scratching Own Back have figures that are scrawled all over with writing, their outlines poetically limiting the extent of the scrawl. Scratching Own Back has the word “itching” written all over the profile of a slender, bent girl sitting cross-legged assuming an attitude of obvious frustration. Most of Singh’s work is stoic; no one is close to being jubilant in any of her works. At best, they may be found in a state of passive indifference. While most of her sketches are black-and-white, the watercolours bring in texture and spark to the somber world of sketches. The gradual shift in the same colour tone in her figures, from lighter shaded insides to darker outlines, give the same effect as her staccato line drawings in colour. Maps and map references are an important part of her sketches. From an internal gaze, her recent work has inverted it towards the world as is seen through the eyes of the artist.
Singh has stated that with her sketches, she wanted to include the flatness of paper, the marks of cutting and crushing. Her sketches retain the rough edges, marks of sheets being ripped off from sketchbooks lend them an immediacy that resonates with the content of the form.
She is not an easy artist to comprehend, neither is she apologetic about not letting an audience into her world easily. “When you make the form then you don’t bother about the audience, afterwards, the viewer can form their own conclusions. Then you know that there is someone in the world who will understand this, and that is whom you are creating for. This is the dialogue. When you ask about hope… I hope there is someone in the world who can understand me,” are words of Singh printed on the bare gallery walls. And yet, there are many who attempt to understand her work; Singh is not one of the leading established contemporary artists of this country for no reason.