Q. You’ve been an arts journalist for a while now — was creating art of your own always a simultaneous process or was it a more recent phenomenon?
A. Creating my own art is certainly more recent. I’ve been an arts journalist for almost 15 years, starting from an arts radio show at AIR for one year, then to plenty art reports for television and currently for my webchannel Hunar TV, with the tag line of “Making Art Accessible”. I am often asked if i have any training or education background in arts. To which i respond that I’ve had the possible education in arts by frequently chatting with artists and visiting their studios such as MF Husain, Satish Gujral, SH Raza, Tyeb Mehta, Anjolie Ela Menon, Subodh Gupta, Seema Kohli and so many more. These were precious interactions and i’m sure a lot got absorbed into my subconscious which is only now reflecting in my own art. Its not exactly a recreation of their art but it’s about being sensitized to forms, colours, textures and expressing yourself through art.
Q. Chamak Patti uses material also used by truckers to decorate their vehicles — it is thus hardy and resistant to wear-and-tear. Was the rough-and-tough nature of the material the thing that prompted you to use it?
A. What attracted me to it was the reflective quality. Just as you see it on trucks and road signage, it glows in the dark with an angular and dim source of light. It lights up as if it’s a bright string of LED-coloured light. It’s absolutely enchanting. Fortunately it’s very hardy too. So when I use it on furniture and homeware such as copper goblets, wine glasses, trays, water pitchers and glass bottles, they can easily be used since it is water-proof, scratch-proof and rip-proof !
Q. Do you think art objects are often unfairly typecast as “delicate” and so on?
A. I would discourage calling my art products delicate because it is functional art. All that one needs to remember is to not scrub them! It’s a great disservice to art if all forms of art need to be treated as delicate. Art needs to be part of your life and the only way that it can be is when you can touch it, feel the textures and use it too.
Q. When did you first notice the potential in truck art? Were you aware of any other artistic projects related to the same topic (like Orijit Sen’s project Sound Horn OK Please?)
A. My work has nothing to do with the style and patterns seen in truck art. I’m aware of other projects inspired by truck art. But in my case, I am using the material used on trucks, ie, reflective sticker. So I work on sheets of reflective sticker and personally hand-cut them in different patterns and apply each tiny piece on a given surface of jewellery, leather handbags and home decor products. It’s a street product that has entered the genre of contemporary high art though my work. That’s the first time.
Q. In the initial stages of Chamak Patti’s conceptualisation, did you view it as mostly wearable art or did you want to make artefacts like vases and so on?
A. The first piece which I made about seven years ago was to beautify an ugly aluminum storage trunk lying at my home. Friends and family liked it so much that they actually ordered me to make more of these colourful trunks for their homes. So it always functional to begin with. What followed next was jewellery, handbags and homeware such as wine goblets, trays, jugs, furniture, etc.
Q. What are your views on the everyday utility of art? Is that something you hope to maintain in your future works as well?
A. Yes, my brand will always be functional art. I’m certain about that.
Q. In recent years, which Indian artists have you admired the most and why?
A. I admire all our Modern Masters like M.F. Husain, Tyeb Mehta, S.H. Raza and F.N. Souza. They set the ground for a new language in Indian art, stepping away from our rich heritage of traditional and ancient art. That was a tall task. From the recent lot of contemporary artists, apart from just admiring Subodh Gupta, I relate very strongly to his art too. Similar to him having used an everyday ordinary product such as utensils for contemporary art (which is a luxury item), I have done the same with taking reflective sticker from the streets to contemporary homes!
Q. With the emergence of online media portals, most of which are fixated with breaking news and “instant noodles” click-bait headlines, where do you see arts journalism going in India? How can the coverage of the arts align itself with changing times?
A. Yes, thanks to the absolutely obsessed political news driven agenda, features reportage has taken a beating. It has disappeared from most platforms, desipte many viewers/readers wanting to read more about visual arts, performance arts, alternate music and literature. It’s ironic. For this very reason, I set up my own web channel called Hunar TV with the tagline of “Making Art Accessible” where I interview artists and writers in a very crisp and conversational manner. It’s a window into the artist’s life, thought process and execution, without sounding too high-falutin about it.
Q. What is the best compliment you have received over Chamak Patti and what is the strangest/funniest thing that you have heard?
A. The best would be what artist Dhiraj Singh said that “you’re like an alchemist who has turned something that our eyes miss so totally into a traffic stopper, quite literally”. The strangest/funniest comment is what my boss at NewsX, Rahul Shivshankar, said, that I have cannibalised on a street product to use it so creatively as functional art.
The exhibition featuring Chamak Patti by Sahar Zaman is currently on at Episode Store, Meher Chand Market, New Delhi.