The kooky Indian girl who once lived in Lahore
The artist I’m featuring today is a strange woman who has a delicious way with words and scribbles. She is constantly muttering strange sentences that spin fantastic tales. Then she draws them. VIDHA SAUMYA came to Lahore from Mumbai in search of a place she had read about. She worked and practiced as an artist for a couple of months and that was the first time I got to see her ridiculously gorgeous books at an exhibit right before she left. Since then I have been endlessly fascinated by here. This is an attempt to enter her chaotic world with my quite useless questionnaire. Enjoy.
IMAGES FROM VIDHA’S LATEST SHOW ‘LOVE CHARADES’ SHOWING IN MUMBAI
Quick Bio. As short as possible. In 1 word or 2 please state name, age, upbringing, school, college, degree, bad relationships and pets. Stick to letters. Or numbers. Or don’t say anything. Or do. (Question I asked Mehreen Murtaza first & now plan to use it for everyone!)
Name: VIDHA SAUMYA; Age: 10095 days; Upbringing: Healthy; School: 4, College: 4
Degree: Double BFA, Single Diploma. BFA(Painting) J.J. School of Art, Mumbai; Diploma in Visual Communication Design, Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore; Independent Study Programme, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore.
Bad relationships: None; Pets: Prefer to let animals be
How did you end up in Pakistan? And what was the BNU experience like?
Manto, Ismet Aapa (Ismat Chughtai) and Asghar Wajahat are my most favourite writers and their writing was my first introduction to Lahore. Apart from the fascination and shared history it is sense of impossibility that made me desire going to Pakistan so much, especially Lahore. In 2007 SAF (South Asia Foundation) sent a scholarship circular and requested interested female students to apply. The entire process was to be carried out through our current institutes. After getting no response for a month I called up Mr. Karan, the COO of the organization, and he told me how they had wasted months trying to get a candidate who would be interested AND WILLING to go study for 9 months in Lahore. He asked me to immediately send him a hand-written and signed letter stating that I am interested and willing to study at Beaconhouse National University, Lahore.
BNU experience was exhilarating at many levels. I signed in for 3 theory courses with Julia Ahmad – Iconoclasm, Goya, Angels and Devils in Film and Art. These courses exposed me to a very unique method of learning, presenting and understanding subject of much social and visual relevance.
I did not have to attend class everyday, which gave me the opportunity and freedom to work towards 4 city-based projects. I also taught History of Art to 2nd year Jewellery and Architecture students and worked briefly at Human Rights Commission (Child Rights Unit).
BNU as an institute repeatedly presented opportunities to know the city and its people. I was always unsure and not too aware of my position and presence at BNU and didn’t really make any friends while my stay there. I mean I was friendly and people were friendly too (mostly). Over time I had convinced myself that always felt I did not or could not belong there. To add to it and was very shy to approach people and initiate conversation. Everybody else seemed so much cooler and happening and smart and all knowing that I always wanted to remain invisible and experience everything.
It is so ironic that after 3-4 months of my stay in Lahore I no longer felt that I had arrived from somewhere else to this new city and country but at BNU I still feel like an outsider.
However I must also mention the support I received from the faculty at BNU. Professor Salima Hashmi, Rashid Rana, Sadaf Chughtai, Huma Mulji, David Alesworth, Gwendolyn Kullick, Risham Syed, Nadia Khwaja, Farida Batool, Malcolm Hutcheson, Julia Ahmad, have been very encouraging and appreciative of all that I was doing at the institute. They came for my exhibition openings, offered help and were very forthcoming and helpful in making me realize the few projects I did there. This experience really enriched my work and made me feel very special. It also drew my attention to the fact that there are few Art schools in India that have such dedicated professionals as teachers. Learning gains such a quantum if we have such facilities and opportunities.
Answer in Yes/NO: Is there a secret cult in BNU which teaches students to shoot NCA students with laser beams and decapitate their vital organs or something-to-that-effect? Because I think I’m onto something.
SECRET CULT? At BNU? Which teaches students?
NO. NO! NO! Not at all.
I do not think any such thing exists.None that I am aware of but I think students/peers can be very cruel sometimes say very mean things. At such times I feel l have been thrown back into school amongst the rich, mama’s boy, teacher’s pet, clean and clear meanies.
NCA is a competitive, versatile, and a very open space. An institute like that will always be looked at as the other by students from an institute that is younger, fresher and experimental.
Apparently you like corpulent naked jovial women with lots of love handles and appetites to match. Explain your art with the help of diagrams.
Talk about your recent show.
The drawings in Love Charades have a come a long way from being very coy with composed shy poses presented in the exhibition Song of the Sirens. ‘Song of the Sirens’ displays a certain anxiety that comes from feeling the need to expose the bodied self, but not being able to go all the way. By contrast, ‘Love Charades’ does not play a precious game of hide-and-seek with social pieties in the matter of the female body, desire or sex. It is about itself; its figures do not trap themselves into performing, even as assigned adversaries, to the scripted expectations of society.
Sometimes, the eye wanders away from the theatricality of the performance and settles on the volumetric fact of abstract piles of bodies inflated to the maximum. One is led into a reverie around the body, as it ceases to be the vessel of an individual human subject, and becomes instead a symbol of humankind in extreme states of various kinds, whether abject or delirious.
Making the final preparations for the solo I decided to make some sculptures. For me it was simply an act of digging my fingers into clay and moulding playful versions of the drawings. There was an instinctive need to plumb the depths of the flesh in some way to articulate the libidinal energies implicit in all acts of creation.
There is photo series as well. I wanted to include these other two mediums to create a dialogue within the works and also give the exhibition an added dimension. I’ve played with contrasting dimensions of the works and also their mediums and I hope it communicates my practice.
What about the ‘conversations’ you post on your blogs. What’s happening there?
The conversations that appear on the blog are part of a book I published in 2008. It is called Guftagu: gutarrrgoon. This book is a documentation of short-lived fleeting encounters with Lahori rickshaw-wallahs. This documentation prompted me to repeat the adventure with their counterparts in Bombay. A few lines from the introduction, “Being a stranger in a country empowers you to look at the city, its people and its culture from a very objective perspective. The ‘unfamiliar’ grants a certain clarity of vision.”
The rickshaw is the appropriate metaphor for mobility and nomadism: its open-close architecture strikes the right balance between public-ness and privacy. Rickshaws was my only mode of commuting through Lahore which gave rise to impromptu exchanges and led to further questions, silences and a renewal of inquisitiveness.
“ …Don’t call me from India” said one rickshaw-wallah. “They’ll put me up on inquiry… In fact, you should just delete my number when you leave Pakistan.”
And in Bombay, amidst stories about competing claims of belonging made by the ‘outsiders’ and ‘insiders’ to the city, bomb blasts and riots, emerges a story of exquisite greenness: a rickshaw-wallah takes his young bride from the village on a walk through the city in the rains. In a way it is a research-based project but the intimacy of its ethnographic methodology creates a surplus of poetry, desire and sensorial residues.
Having displayed in both Pakistan and India, what do you find different in the art scene of Lahore and Mumbai?
Apart from being able to serve wine the only difference is that in Mumbai people see exhibition till the last date of the exhibition.
Lahore has some good gallery spaces but only one gallery with a vision and a bigger intent of making a mark and difference. Mumbai has many competing art galleries hence there is more dialogue here.
I absolutely loved your books and drawings at Grey Noise. Where are the books now? Would they play with my books? My books have ugly naked men who pee on everything.
‘Explosives’ enacts an overheated sexual fantasy; but its shock value is blunted through a repeated assault on the senses. In a sense, this book mimics the surfeit of libidinous images that flood the market and infiltrate people’s minds in the age of globalization. I am fascinating with anything naked.
Apparently you also like sentence-free words. Let’s try a free verse shall we. A story of 10 lines. No, don’t think. Just go.
Sticking ants to the masking tape
hoping to get my pay cheque
I look at invites
some that don’t shine
Seurat long went digital and Duchamp’s
shifted the urinal
Decompression, Intangible Interlocution
Account payee only
Milkstone on screen
The ants are finally biting me
AC switched off
Green stickies adorn the wall
Their end curls
And Saira still insists I go free verse
Which artists do you enjoy looking at, and wish you could stalk – locally and internationally? Who’s your favourite Pakistani artist, Indian Artist, Old dead white artist?
Kiki Smith, Nalini Malani, Wolfgang Laib, Manish Nai, Mehreen Murtaza, Mithu Sen, Sophie Kalle, Orlan, Marjane Satrapi, Will Eisner, Audrey Niffinegger, Dawn Klements, Chris Offilli, Grayson Perry, William Kentridge, Gerard Mermoz, C.K. Rajan, Jyothi Basu, Ratheesh T., Nicola Durvasula, Dayanita Singh, Rachel Whiteread, Pippoliti Rist. Tyeb Mehta, Wolfgang Laib.
My favourite right now are Wolfgang Laib and Rachel Whiteread.
Do you save ‘bad’ drawings? Ones you know totally wasted that sheet of paper. I can’t seem to throw them away. They just might become good ‘bad’ drawings when we’re famous or dead, or both.
I use bad drawings as rag, wrapping paper or soaking oil.
Can drawing save the world?
The idea of drawing can lead to some great possibilities.
Installation views(Love Charades) – Photographs by Anil Rane
Installation views(Song of the Sirens) – Aacif Khan
Images of drawings – © Vidha Saumya
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