Between fragility and permanence, the excavation of its roots by the artist Radhika Aggarwala
When she returned to her hometown of Kolkata after being away for decades, she began to see the landscape in a new light. When Cyclone Amphan got stuck, and the pandemic after that, she took on the role of archaeologist. “My workshop started to look like an excavation site. I started collecting all the specimens of felled trees and other found objects. After all, we had started an ecological war in our landscape,” recalls artist Radhika Agarwala.
Considering she was trained as a printmaker and painter, this MFA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths, London and MFA in Painting from the University of Florida, who over the years has also done sculpture, adds, “I treat the metal like paper. Hence the fragility and the permanence, and the dichotomy. I also show them in relation to the human body, after all, human existence and nature complement each other. she tells IANS on the sidelines of the recently concluded Indian Art Fair, where her cast and weathered brass artwork “Will We Ever Walk Into the Fields of Gold Again” was exhibited by Latitude 28 Gallery, based in Delhi.
The work is a commentary on the time we have lost ecologically. She says it’s also a time capsule for her: “The degeneration of hope and the loss of a landscape and lives.”
Emphasizing that most of the time the theme dictates the medium she chooses, the artist says that in case of ‘Will….’ she wanted to show the scorched crevices, the nuances and minute details of the surrounding nature, and the beauty she finds in the chaos. “And after deconstructing those specimens, I go into metal, and then I start the process of inverting all the classic techniques into a contemporary context.”
Ask him about the ‘why’ of choosing nature as a central theme over the past few years, and Agarwala, who considers himself to be someone with an insider-outsider perspective, clarifies: ‘It’s now been around Seven years since I started living in India, between Calcutta and Bangalore. Again, very different climates and regions to the west. I think I feel like a stranger in this landscape. About 14 years ago, the Indian landscape was very different. We were talking about the dystopia that could happen, but now after living there and coming back here to the urban jungles filled with concrete, steel, tar and carbon that we breathe, we’re living it. These works essentially evoke time lost forever.
Although paper has always been a medium close to her heart, she has worked a lot in recent years with metal. “I use a material like metal, something that I wouldn’t use conceptually because it’s so masculine and aggressive as a material. So I want to show the feminine, organic and fragile part that nature has. It’s that genre. of dichotomy that I try to show. For me, all these works are like a spectacle of refuge and contemplation.
Although the pandemic has been emotionally unsettling for her given that her studio is not part of the house and she has had to redefine her practice, the artist says: “But I was quite busy and took the role of archaeologist. This time allowed me to be very experimental. I researched patina and started to think of patina as paint. It gave me this flexibility to merge the artificial and the organic.