Hailing from Jammu, Niku Guleria is a Delhi-based artist. She has participated in many group shows, including at AIFACS (2008, 2009); the All India Exhibition of Arts by IAFA Amritsar (2017) and “Art for Kerala Flood Disaster” at NGMA, New Delhi (2018). Her work was also showcased at the 3rd Annual Festival of Innovations at Rashtrapati Bhawan in 2017 and at “Art Project Learning Curve”, a series of group shows sponsored by the Ministry of Culture in 2019. She has held a number of solo shows – the most recent being “The Struggle is On” at Shridharani Art Gallery, New Delhi (2017). She was awarded a Senior Fellowship (2018-19) in painting by the Centre of Cultural Resources and Training, Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
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?
NG: The idea of my being an artist took a fairly long time to sink into me. During my childhood, I too, like any other child, loved to draw with whatever I could lay my hands upon, so I don’t really attribute this normal childhood activity to the final shaping-up process of my becoming an artist. But, yes, I would become very ruminative once I had something in my hand to write with, whatsoever the surface. It is also true that I had the ingredients essential for leading an artistic life – I could write poetry and sing and paint reasonably well for my age. However, there was some unfounded confusion in my life because I was more fascinated by the role of a public servant and they were plenty in number in my family. Oscar Wilde was right when he said, “Art is the only serious thing in the world and the artist is the only person who is never serious.” The first stroke of seriousness I felt was the time when I shifted to Agartala, the farthest tip of northeast India, to be with my husband, a distinguished officer in the Indian army. There, I decided to get formal training in the fine arts. The Principal of the Fine Arts College, Agartala, a good-natured man who held the Armed Forces in very high esteem, arranged a special tuition by an ad-hoc Lecturer, Shri Vishwaranjan Chaudhary, at my home because of reasons of my personal security, as North East was a very disturbed area during the 1990s.
I shifted to Delhi in 2004 for family considerations and here with the help of the eminent artist, Shri Kalicharan Gupta and Mrs Surinder Kaur, an equally acclaimed artist, I gained admission to Triveni Kala Sangam. Under the remarkable guidance of Shri Rameshwar Broota, I further tried to explore my flaws and lacunas in pursuing art as a serious profession. As far as my struggle and challenges are concerned, I feel my life became hardened and immune to stresses and strains because it was spent in military stations, rugged terrains and extremely arduous conditions that enabled me to overcome my breaking points, which I often faced. Nonetheless, the most painful part was the time when I felt the grave feeling of self-deprivation. This happened when I came to know that I had lost my statehood because of the highly obnoxious provisions of article 370, as my parents married me off outside my home state. Things like gender equality became meaningless for me; this is the reason, for me, 5 August 2019 is as pious and sanctified as 15 August 1947.
As far as my role model is concerned, I am very much impressed by the work and artistic imagery of Banksy, the iconic British graffiti artist who is as famous as anonymous and who, with each artwork, creates a change that has historical dimensions.
2. What art project(s) are you working on currently? What is your inspiration or motivation for this?
NG: I have just concluded my senior fellowship project based on “Art – Existentialism and Artificial intelligence”; what left me deeply influenced was the undiminished relevance of the theory of existentialism, a philosophy more prevalent during the 18th and 19th centuries. The project has widened my mental horizons and sharpened my cognitive skills. To be honest, I really do not enjoy churning out series after series and sequels of my previous work with a slight change in composition and colour scheme. But a strong feeling is taking root within me that some work should be done to revisit the theory of existentialism which negates the importance and supremacy of the essence and re-establishes and reconstructs the impeccable and unprecedented valuation of ‘existence’ as the fundamental reality, preceding even essence.
In a way, the theory of existentialism is my primary motivational force, and I intend to revise all those concepts and principles which illustrate my socio-economic, and more importantly, political evaluation of the world. The environment and its degradation also constitute the most important part of the entire art program which I intend to undertake in the near future.
Art of Learning, Oil on canvas, 35 inches x 50 inches
Space Colony, Oil on canvas, 45 inches x 55 inches
Untitled, Mixed media, 40 inches x 30 inches
Money Matters, Mixed media, 42 inches x 36 inches
Sophia and Laika, Oil on canvas, 35 inches x 50 inches
370 A Condition, Mixed media, 30 inches x 30 inches
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?
NG: Well, contemporary art has undergone and is continuously passing through a phase of transformation. The application and materiality are both subject to shredding, tearing, destroying and reconstructing to the point that this period of art is getting the name of “Art Point Zero”. On technological front as also artificial intelligence with its augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality are all pressing the art world to go through new dimensions and parameters. As an artist I do admit that ‘’creativity’’ must go on, but the fundamental element which endows the human being a reason to live, breathe and finally exist on this earth should not be allowed to die because this is the only thing which can help us to sustain as a human civilization. Nevertheless, I think the inconsequential and highly consumerist overtures of some of the art-affiliated trends and tendencies have in some ways affected the interiority of art and its primal force and precluded it to keep flowing unhindered and unrestrained. My experimentation is more inclined to the application process of traditional mediums. The materiality of the art remains secondary to the contents of my subject matter. My concepts and fundamentals generally relate to contextual issues and realities, which I feel bound and determined to raise from time to time through my artwork.
Dichotomy, Oil on canvas, 60 inches x 50 inches
Cocoon, Oil on canvas, 50 inches x 30 inches
Cosmic Dance, Oil on canvas, 50 inches x 45 inches
Consolation, Oil on canvas, 33 inches x 50 inches
Camaraderie, Oil on canvas, 40 inches x 50 inches
4. Does art have a social purpose or is it more about self-expression?
NG: Art, as we all know, defines the inner self – its feelings, reactions and all the intricacies, subtleties and sensitivities expressed in different ways and manners. So self -expression is the primary reason which can be attributed to its genesis and growth. I believe that an artist, just by doing art registers the chronology of events, highlights the tone and tenor of society, thereby becoming the most reliable witness to the periodicity of different socio-economic and political happenings. This is how he or she serves the purposes of a multidimensional society. It is true that art for me is the expression of the qualities of art and the soul. I execute my work balancing the creativity and excellence of the soft skills of the human being with the techno-centric conceptualization of art.
5. Where do you create your art (workplace / studio)? What is your process?
NG: My life is anchored to the nomadic state of mind which I started having as a result of my entry into army life. Not surprisingly, I kept on changing my workplace after every two years. From 2004 to 2012, I worked in Triveni Kala Sangam in Delhi and subsequently, from 2012 to 2013, I was in Chandigarh where I got a different but very vibrant and artistically nourishing environment to further brush up my artistic perceptions and perspective. Finally, returning to Delhi again, my “karambhoomi”, in 2013, I changed the study room of my flat at Dwarka into my working studio. As far as the process of my art making is concerned, my basic technique is scratching with the help of a blade and any pointed tool, which I scratch with layer after layer until I get a vibrant and multi-hued effect in my work. My process stops itself when it nears its completion. Besides oil paint, I use acrylic also but with a lot of texturing material; as a result, my work assumes a sculptural look which is very satisfying and seems to assuage my otherwise frayed imaginations. I am equally fond of drawing passionately with different types of materials.
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?
NG: It is true that the deadly corona virus caught the whole world unaware. The lockdown, social distancing and masking have all created a fear psychosis and a mindset of social alienation. The pandemic has drastically changed the making and marketing of the art. In this, while digitalization and technological know-how has come to the rescue to some extent, the art fraternity, galleries, etc. have suffered immensely. Online activities and virtual displays are becoming a common sight and some kind of normalcy is setting in. The only difference is that the virtual and online features of this new normal period will continue to exist and may become even stronger and more demanding.
7. Tell us about any other interest you may have besides your art practice. Does it get reflected
in your art?
NG: I am a highly reserved person and a complete introvert. At the same time, I have strong views about several issues affecting society and the world we live in, which coaxes me to voice my concerns against those vicious trends and tendencies. I do write prose and poetry but I write them haphazardly, so I’ve not compiled them systematically, though I intend to do so in future. Besides composing poetry, I enjoy writing lyrics, which I do occasionally. I read extensively all kinds of literature. I also like gardening and cooking my favourite dishes and of course all other normal activities.
(All images and videos are courtesy of the artist, Niku Guleria.)
The artamour questionnaire is a regular series of interviews with visual artists across disciplines, who share their views about art, their practice and their worldview on a common questionnaire template. Like, comment, share and subscribe to stay updated.