Of Floating Desires
by Georgina Maddox
Preview essay on the solo show by Avani Bakaya at Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi
(21 and 31 October 2021)
It was during the holidays at her family home where her mother grew up in Rajasthan that Avani painted her first significant artwork – an oil on tile, in muted colours, of browns and sepias offset by a few blues and greens. The painting, titled Memories in Time II, is a work rendered in a meticulous and hyperreal manner but it comprises fragments: lamp springs out from behind the curtains that are patterned with motifs of urban homes, the grand ceiling of the Souk in Dubai makes an appearance in another corner of the work only to give way to a lonely unknown staircase at the bottom. In another work titled A Study in Contrast II we witness a floating fedora hat, contrasted with the complex internal parts of a piece of machinery, an old brick structure marooned out on a rugged hillside with a burst of blue flowers in the far-right corner. The contrast that Avani speaks of is of different time frames coming together in her mind: of ‘modernity’ and the ‘medieval’, the past and present existing both as ‘object’ and ‘memory’.
Memories in Time II, Oil on Tile, 16" x 16"
A Study in Contrast II, Oil on Tile, 16" x 16"
This sea of floating objects, some half-hidden, some highly ornate, others functional and wrapped in their apparent mundanity are weaved out of Avani’s memory drawings and the photographs that she often takes to observe her surroundings. They are anchored down by partially viewable buildings culled from her local settings and her travels to Rajasthan, Kanpur, New York and even Dubai. In her paintings we see how current architecture mingles seamlessly with heritage structures; later the city of Delhi makes an entry into her work, with its modern structures and a hint of the cosmopolitan life where she returns back to her paternal home.
Avani is a young artist who painted since her childhood. Later she joined the Delhi College of Art and now continues her experiments with space under the mentorship of Rameshwar Broota, becoming one of his protegees at the Triveni Kala Sangam. This is her first solo show and it is born out of her being grounded in her home during the Covid-19 pandemic. Exploring the emotion behind the slightly distressing yet wonderfully freeing sense of defying gravity in her work, Avani tell us about her internal journey, her uniquely personal exploration during the pandemic.
It was because of the lockdown that she first felt a sense of agitation at being cut off from life as it was and then a sense of making peace with being within the protective walls of the architectural structures that she so loved.
“I began to feel a sense of floating in my mind because suddenly I didn’t feel grounded, but I reined in my sense of anxiety and pieced together my fragmented consciousness. The works have facets and fragments of buildings from my life. Using architectural imagery as a medium, I explore how thought influences our perception of our surroundings,” says Avani.
Having grown up in a metropolis like Delhi, she has spent many moments contemplating life while simply observing her surroundings. “The stage to these thoughts is usually terraces, balconies and car windows, while the view is large urban architecture and homes,” says Avani. Often, fragments of these structures get etched in her mind and she finds herself reconstructing and pouring over it. Isolated at home with no one to speak to, she dived into her memory and began to put down her thoughts in a painterly manner.
A Study in Contrast I, Oil on Tile, 24" x 24"
Expanding her small-format approach (her earlier works of this series range from 24 inches x 24 inches to 16 inches x32 inches diptychs), Avani began to upbuild her compositions by including several canvases into one composition, relating them to each other in a loose narrative and simultaneously extending her composition to a larger format without compromising the individuality of each work. In some instances, the flat coloured backdrop is different for each canvas and in some instances, the colour is the same. This variation of colour maintains the fragmented nature of the artwork while bringing them together in the same composition. One wonders why not paint all of it upon a large format canvas? The answer perhaps lies in the fact that the episodic nature of the memory is kept intact while formalistically the small format also allows the artist to maintain the meticulous integrity of her work. There is also a certain power of interruption in breaking up the form into two canvases as opposed to having it painted over one continuous surface.
One may also note that in her 2020 body of work, the human presence is indicated through objects but the human form is actually absent. Avani helps us understand why: when objects and the architecture behind human acculturation ‘stand in’ for their human protagonists, it contains and evokes a certain kind of poignancy to it. The personification of objects with human qualities is often known as the school of thought of anthropomorphism and it exists both in Eastern and Western thought and ideology. Some objects give themselves up to greater and easier human interpretation while others remain more distant. If one were to ascribe gendered readings to Avani’s work, we may see a greater predilection for objects that are solid and almost masculine in nature, like machinery and solid buildings. However, the softer feminine aspect is always present and it is subtly brought in through nature, flowers, curtains and other diaphanous cloth.
Sacrum - Why does my lower back hurt, Charcoal and ink on paper, 8.3" x 11.7"
Pelvic Panic, Charcoal and ink on paper, 8.3" x 11.7"
Cardiac Catastrophe, Charcoal, ink and images on paper, 8.3" x 11.7"
In her most recent body of work, Avani has taken it upon herself to transition from objects to the internal mechanisms of the human body. In works like Sacrum – Why does my lower back hurt?, Cardiac Catastrophe and Pelvic Panic, where she works with charcoal and graphite on paper, she captures human fragility and vulnerability by indicating how the heart, back and pelvis are all important yet friable. She brings to our attention how this duality is indicative of the human condition. The work possesses a certain x-ray quality, where the bones and organs have been rendered as luminous and white against a black backdrop. Moreover, the human organs and bones are lyrical and beautiful where each cell may be seen as a pattern and each organ associated with tender human emotion, like love or aching. The works are heavily underwritten with a personal narrative that Avani briefly indicates through her titles. One is especially drawn to the darker side of the readings, where a work like Cardiac Catastrophe brings into focus the image of the heart, floating in its dark environs, but wherein an open window and a patterned walkway indicate a certain sense of escape, a journey into the land of the unknown, that Avani’s protagonist and conscious mind ultimately escapes.
The exhibition is supported by The Raza Foundation on the occasion of 100 years of S.H. Raza.
(All images are courtesy of the artist, Avani Bakaya)
Georgina Maddox is an independent critic-curator with almost two decades of experience in the field of Indian art and culture. She was assistant editor at India Today’s Mail Today and senior arts writer for the Indian Express and the Times of India. She is currently working in the media as an independent critic for various publications and has published articles in Open Magazine, India Today, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and also in Elle Magazine, The Hindu and Business Line, Sunday Magazine BLINK, TAKE on Art, Time Out, and online with US based E-magazine, Studio International, STIR world and MASH Mag.