Jyotika Sehgal: Inner Manifestations of the Lingual into the Visual
Jyotika Sehgal is an internationally acclaimed artist and art academician based in New Delhi. After topping her BFA (Painting) in 1985 from Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, she completed her MFA (Portrait Painting) from MS University of Baroda, Gujarat, in 1987 and also cleared her NET-UGC India Professional Examination in the same year. From 2005 to 2009 she lived in Europe and was involved with Practice Based Research at UWE, Bristol. She was awarded a PhD by the University of Delhi in 2015. Besides pursuing her painting, since 1990 she has also been involved with teaching, first as Lecturer of Painting, at the Government College of Art, Chandigarh, and from 1996 onwards at the College of Art, New Delhi, where she is currently Professor and HOD, Department of Painting.
She received the Sahitya Kala Parishad, Yuva Mahotsav Award, New Delhi, and the National Cultural Scholarship in Painting, India, in 1987 and the UGC Research Fellowship in Fine Art in 1988. She was given the Charles Wallace India Trust Award, UK, in 2002 and the National Academy Award in Painting, Lalit Kala Akademi, in 2011.
Jyotika Sehgal has held several solo and two-person shows, including at the Alliance Francaise (Joint Show), Chandigarh, in 1992; JJ Valaya Art (Solo Show), New Delhi, in 1997; Indian Embassy, Berlin, in 2002; Wolfson College University of Oxford (Solo Show), in 2003; Insel Galerie, Berlin (Joint Show), in 2007; and most recently a Solo Show at Shridharani Gallery, Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi, in 2021. She has also authored two books: 2018, A bilingual book To Reach You, I Dream, Um Dich Zu Erreichen, Träume Ich, in 2018, and an e-book titled Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Jap Ji Sahib, Manifestations of the Magnificent, 2019.
1. When did you decide and what prompted you to become an artist? Please give a brief account of your challenges and struggles in your journey as an artist. Any role models?
JS: For a school-going child, the impact and love of a teacher plays a significant role. My dedicated art teacher, Nakul Sinha, was an alumni of Shantiniketan Kala Bhavan. I went to Air Force Bal Bharati School at Lodhi Road, New Delhi, which regularly held annual art exhibitions. It was he who influenced my mother that I should join an art college and not pursue the commerce stream. I felt proud when he told her that there will be only one Jyotika Sehgal as an artist and many CAs.
I opted for Applied Art in my application to the College of Art, Delhi, and fortunately for me, one of the two practical papers was disqualified. I had smudged my drawing which was strictly forbidden. I was into painting at school and didn’t have the faintest idea what smudging was. Nakul Sir was delighted because he wanted me to join Jamia Millia, which had today’s art stalwarts as teachers, such as
A. Ramachandran Nair, Jatin Das, Parmjit Singh, Rajeev Lochan. Mine was the first batch of BFA there, and right from the Entrance Exam throughout the four years, I topped the class.
I’ve had the blessings of a great mentor throughout my institutional education in art. In Masters at Baroda, I had revered Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh as my teacher and later, for my Ph D, I worked under the supervision of Prof. Paul Gough and Dr Ian Biggs, and respected former Principal of College of Art, Prof. M. Vijayamohan. My educators allowed me to widen my art horizon with varied influences the field. I’m perhaps too self-obsessed to pinpoint few role models. I believe in a disciplined routine and regular work. I enjoy what I do – painting, teaching or researching, and none are a burden on me. This is also one reason of why I’ve never approached an art gallery with my work and come under a pressure from it.
2. What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this?
JS: I did my research in Visual Translation, enquiring whether a poetic language can be transformed to a visual form and formulated a system for it. After working on the Ghalib series, I worked on the Jap Ji Sahib prayer by Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism. As I was keen to bring out its translation on his 550th Birth Anniversary, I could finish only two works, which were used as the cover page and last page of my e-book, titled Manifestation of the Magnificent. I have four more works lined up in that series and maybe I will end up doing a few more on it.
Ghalib series, Tempera
The Wandering Muse, 2004
The Night Ebbs Away, 1996
This Wise Please, 2020
3. Contemporary art has become very diverse and multidisciplinary in the last few decades. Do you welcome this trend? Is this trend part of your art practice?
JS: It is an individual’s call. I can comment only on my bent of mind. I did not even opt for acrylic as a medium for painting, as I’ve not felt the hurry or pressure to do work with a stress to finish, following the dictates of a gallery. Similarly, I was using a Samsung Note phone with a stylus to work the in-between stages of painting when I wasn’t in my studio.
Because of the incompatibility of Samsung and Apple after I bought a MacBook, I work on the iPad for the same reason. The software called Procreate creates a time lapse video when I draw on it. I also save the stages of progress of my painting by pasting its various photographs one after the other.
I do not want to jump into anything for the sake of fashion. If an expression demands a new media maybe, but as of now, I’m quite a traditionalist.
4. Does art have a social purpose or is it more about self-expression?
JS: There is for sure a social purpose, as all sincere creative expressions are the reflection of the times of its execution. Although, I’m politically aware of the present, my works do not make strong political statements. I do not find myself equipped with the language meant for that kind of expression; it doesn’t come naturally to me.
5. Where do you create your art (workplace / studio)? What is your process?
JS: I’ve my studio at home. I am an early riser – I get up about 4-ish in the morning irrespective of whether I am in India or Europe. I must have about 3 hours or more with me before I will plan to work. After painting, I always want to leave my work at a stage which is inviting enough to start again the following day. The last ritual in winding up for the day goes in paying respect to my tools, ie properly cleaning my brushes with turpentine and soap and then storing them neatly wrapped in a paper, cleaning the palette, and so on. I buy and use the best of materials and use them well.
With eminent artist Arpana Caur (left) and art curator Uma Nair (centre) at the recent Shridharni show
Artists and visitors at the recent Shridharni gallery show
Speaking to the students of art
6. To what extent will the world of art change in the post-Covid period – both in terms of what is created as also the business of art?
JS: Covid has united the entire world together in the sufferings it involves as well as allowed a slowdown of an individual to introspect. The latter is not uncommon for a creative mind in any case.
Ideas to use the social internet platforms are being explored in a big way. Now the content of the race has shifted from a ‘prestigious gallery space’ to the web space. I feel it's like a marathon where everyone imagines they want to run, so we’ve a big crowd at the beginning. We all have to see how long the race is and who all are close to the finishing line. The survivors as always will only be who offer a sincere content to the audience.
7. Tell us about any other interest you may have besides your art practice. Does it get reflected
in your art?
JS: With my own painting and research practice, teaching in the college of art, and as a mother, I’ve not had the time to pursue any other interest. All my interests have gelled together and complement each other, whether it is poetry, philosophical reading, social and political awareness, etc.
At the latest show at Shridharni gallery, Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi
(All images are courtesy of the artist, Jyotika Sehgal)
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