by Aakshat Sinha
“I’m like a river as I move forward towards the open sea. I take in and discard from that which is around.” – Kanchan Chander
“she, who is like a river” was an online show featured by Art Heritage gallery on Artsy.net from 4 December 2020 till 15 January 2021. The show can still be viewed in the section, "Past Shows”. The show displayed some of her most recent works as digital painting on canvas, mixed media works on canvas and paper, and mixed media on fibre glass torsos. Over the years, after her art education in painting and printmaking from College of Art, Delhi, and Weisensee Kunst Hochschule, Berlin, printmaking from College of Art, Santiago, and on a French government scholarship at Ecole Des Beaux Arts, Paris, her works have varied from being sculptural to painting, to collage, printmaking, and even digital. Kanchan in the last four decades or so has primarily focused on the female form and her journey of self-exploration continues in this show as well.
On being asked about the title of the show and its relevance, this is what Kanchan had to say:
artamour: A river originates quite naive and innocent, accumulates mass and speed as it traverses on its way, to finally lose its identity when it joins a larger water body like a sea or an ocean. How do you equate the life of a woman to a river? How do you see the evolution of her identity and its eventual loss? Or do you see the end as a culmination of becoming one with the larger soul rather than a loss?
Kanchan Chander: I feel that life is like a river for me, where as you are flowing into and meeting the ocean, you carry along so many things from the sides and then you also leave so many things behind on the sides. My life has seen so many incidents and experiences – good and bad, tragic, happy, joyful – so, it’s been like a rollercoaster ride and I just feel like a river now. After taking in so many things and leaving so many others, I feel that I’ve reached a spiritual stage where I’m very satisfied, tranquil, and happy and I’ve accepted everything in life. It’s the acceptance which has made me so much calmer. I have no grudges against anyone. I’ve have essentially reached a very sublime state. I’m just painting now.
There are 38 works on display. The black and white works that focus on Hollywood and Bollywood divas are a tribute to the legendary actresses. The images of Audrey Hepburn and Meena Kumari are mirrored horizontally and one can’t be ambivalent to their seductive gaze and attractive smile. While creating these works on canvas, she has incorporated materials like sequins, glitter, etc. to further embellish the stars. Frida Kahlo and Amrita Sher-Gill also co-habit this lustrous galaxy of stars along with the image of the artist herself. The artist has once shared in an interview how she also had the desire to be a film star and probably that is also a source of her attraction towards these leading ladies. And why the artist’s own image becomes a part of the imagery too.
Hollywood - Audrey Hepburn, 48 inches × 32.5 inches, Mixed Media on Canvas, 2019
Bollywood - Meena Kumari, 48 inches × 32.5 inches, Mixed Media on Canvas, 2019
The colorful works from 2019 and 2020 in the exhibition feature the same leading celebrities but from the graceful black-and-white images, it transcends to pop art with bright fluorescent colours. The smiling faces remain constant. There are multiple layers to the paintings and as one delves deeper into the artwork, many more elements and figures become apparent. The repetitive use of the face and creative elements adds emphasis to the feminine power that exudes from the canvas, once the viewer allows the in-your-face loudness of colours to settle. The clouds hang on the top and remind one of the compositions used in Buddhist Thangka art.
If I had Wings to Fly, 31 inches × 20 inches, Digital Painting on Canvas, Edition 1/3, 2019
Torso, Frida and Me 3, 31 inches × 20 inches, Digital Painting on Canvas, Edition 2/3, 2019
Torso 2, 31 inches × 18 inches, Digital Painting on Canvas, Edition 1/3, 2019
Let it be, 20 inches × 16 inches, Acrylic and Pen on Paper, 2019
Yogini literally translates to a female master practitioner of Yoga. But in Hinduism and Buddhism, yogini carries more meanings and refers to greater power, even occult in nature. Whatever be the artist’s inspiration for the use of yogini in her art, the image only gains power by its presence. The headless figure in a squatting position also reminds one of Kamakhya, the menstruating deity, a symbol of power and fertility. The figure is central to the painting and the use of vibrant colours further enhances the spiritual power of the artwork. The choice of bright and vibrant colours along with the use of many shiny and reflective materials, at first viewing appears somewhat flashy and flamboyant, but given time the chaos seems to present its tranquil sub-nature. This time is needed to better absorb the content and the context allows for an even, non-rushed breathing. It is now that the viewer can better align with the core of the painting – the diva, the female form, the leading star, the yogini, the woman.
Yogini 3a, 31 inches × 19 inches, Digital Painting on Canvas, Edition 1/3, 2019
Whispering Torso 5, 31 inches × 25 inches, Mixed Media on Canvas, 2018
Yogini 2, 31 inches × 21 inches, Digital Painting on Canvas, Edition of 3, 2020
The female torso in some of her art is used as a symbol and a motif in some, while in others it takes the form of the artwork itself (as 3D fiberglass sculptures). On the use of the torso in her art, she explained:
artamour: Female torso has been a repetitive element in your works over the years and has been used as the support, like the fiberglass version, on which you have subsequently painted and pasted on, and as a shape that becomes the protagonist in the painting/mixed media work, which has been used as a black shape at times and as a decorative colorful piece with embellishments, among other ways of usage. What is the significance of the use of the torso in your artworks? Where does it come from and how and why does it keep featuring in your works? Is its different usage also significant and symbolic?
Kanchan Chander: Regarding the female torso, ever since I started doing artworks from my college days, I have been working with the female figure. I started working with the torsos in the late 1980s and early 1990s because I feel that the female torso is a beautiful form that sustains and contains so much within itself. It contains the sensitivity, sensuousness, motherhood, fertility, compassion . . . everything. So for me the form is very important. Being a daughter first and then later a mother too, it was something that I can relate to. I’ve been working on the torso, keep going back to it and it keeps bouncing back in my artworks. Initially it was minimal in my paintings, then I started making it intricate, and when I started using mixed media, the torsos became the primary form. I was doing a lot of 2D with mixed media and then I questioned myself why I shouldn’t do the mixed media using the 3D form. So I started working on fibre glass torsos. Let me also tell you that I don’t have anybody to help me. I do everything myself, starting from the sourcing to the pasting myself, so the very process of the mixed media is very cathartic.
The 3D torso works carry an inherent bare feminine power within themselves. The use of black and white materials or bright colourful ones does not take away from the shape itself. I’ve seen similar works from the artist’s previous shows at various galleries and the way they occupy the space they inhabit and they are something to be experienced in person.
Collage Torso 24, 20 inches × 14 inches × 3 inches, Fibre Glass, 2019
Collage Torso 27, 20 inches × 14 inches × 3 inches, Fibre Glass, 2019
Personally, I do feel that viewing a 3D artwork through images online is not necessarily doing justice to the art object but given the conditions that we are living in currently with the still to-be-resolved pandemic; this is a good opportunity to become aware of the art available globally. Online shows also remove the limitations of travelling and adhering to fixed timings of physical shows.
The online show allows for newer ways to engage with art but then does the physicality and tangible aspect lose its meaning? On being asked about this and the possibilities available, Tariq Allana from Art Heritage responded thus:
artamour: How do you as a gallerist find the use of online platforms like Artsy and social media platforms in terms of the ease of access and promotion of art? Online access is generally restricted to images, videos and/or audio options. How do you see them contributing to the engagement between the art and the viewer?
Tariq Allana: Online portals and platforms like Artsy (website and iPhone app), TAPIndia, Instagram and WhatsApp provide viewers a range of entry points to access artworks – allowing a customized experience for each viewer. There is an inherent understanding and acceptance on the part of the viewer that the experience they have digitally is limited – both in terms of viewing the artwork and building a relationship with the gallery. Thus, the virtual world has come to serve as a space of “introduction” for the viewer to the artwork and the gallery, and an opportunity to decide how and whether to take the next step.
Art Heritage’s approach has always been to engage collectors by educating them about what they are acquiring. During COVID times the shift to digital has also resulted in the creation of a lot of novel, educational content (virtual walk-throughs, podcasts, Zoom meetings and Instagram live events) by artists, curators, galleries and institutions – providing an opportunity for the viewer to be well informed about the art world. This dissemination of information has helped with the promotion of art, and truly resulted in commerce through art!
Art Heritage views our online presence in an integrated manner as including our website, Artsy page, participation in TAPIndia, our audio and video series and our WhatsApp Business account. During COVID times our digital footprint increased substantially, however, we have always considered it to complement physical exhibitions in the gallery, not replace them.
In 2017, I had showcased eight canvas works by Kanchan Chander at the ‘Indian Contemporaries’ show at Art Russia 2017; a show of 44 Indian artists that I had curated. Her works even then had great attraction and drew crowds, even when the works were quite small: only one foot by one foot in size.
Her motifs, subjects and treatments have continued to be on similar lines all through her career and that is her consistency in style as an artist. She has definitely incorporated many new mediums to explore and imbibe into her artistic language over time and this has added newer dimensions to her art without deviating from her core themes. Her recent works that have been created digitally, ready to be printed on canvas, are a testament to this. An artist needs to evolve with changing times and she has embraced technology and modern tools with open arms.
(All images are courtesy of the artist Kanchan Chander, online show by Art Heritage on Artsy)
Ranjan Kaul's essay, Sense and sensitivity of contemporary art Part-3 where Kanchan Chander's works have been used as an example of 'appropriation' in art.
Aakshat Sinha is an artist and curator. He also writes poetry and has created and published comics. He is the Founding Partner of artamour.