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Millennium Post

TRACING DUALITIES OVER 4 DECADES

Caur’s women are strong and sturdy – they belong to yesterday and today. There is no hint of sensuality, for her women and nature share a symbiotical connection, writes Uma Nair.

To look at a painting by Arpana Caur is to be drawn into the world of a woman. To be caressed by the neatly delineated contours of the brush of the finest figurative artist in India. No one can create a supine or yogic squatting human character on canvas the way Caur does and this is the structural firmament that greets your gaze at this celebration of 40 years of work at the Swaraj Archives in Noida. Dualities, social commentaries ,transcendental trajectories, objects swirl and scatter like surreal leitmotifs laden on tales woven from antiquity to meet present day reality.

Women have always dominated her works. Her women are strong and sturdy, they belong to yesterday and today, they belong to our homes, to our neighbourhood. There is no hint of sensuality, for her women and nature share a symbiotical connection. Women are the latent force, tale carriers. Through the challenges of development and urbanization they have the power to renew and regenerate."
Women in Consonance
The 1999 work Embroiderers is a rippled reflection of two women in consonance as they use their tools in intense quietude. The Godna folk motifs and the neon toned Prussian blue and verdant green both create connotations of the characterisation of roles in the purpose of existence. Caur constantly looks at metaphoric elements – the scissors a mythic symbol from Greek literature. The eyes of the women – wide and bold in sunken hollows form the narrative – they are always hinged on time.
Dharti 2008 looks like a selfie in which Caur is the protagonist and within the canvas of her womanly curves and emerald green womb are juxtapositions of men and women, commoners and iconic symbols which speak at once of war and peace in the darkness of death's shadows. The Thread done in the same year has a seraphic looking Sikh holding onto a thread that seems to connect hope in the hour of destruction.
Tragedy and Upliftment
No matter how tragic the circumstance, a painting must uplift, Caur remembers Picasso's Guernica, the screaming horse, but at the bottom, the child holding a flower. Even in the darkest of times there has to be redemption.
Stories of tragedy and spiritual quotients are recurring themes in Caur's oeuvre, apart from Sohni Mahiwal, the widows of Vrindavan, the Nanak series, yogis and yoginis, and the environment. Her series are unending, she used to play with the idea of the eternal connect between day and night. She wanted to paint time. So she did embroidery, weaving a thread and night, which is death, cuts it.
History and literature run through her grammar. Deeply knitted to Indian miniature traditions she creates gouaches that stir you. When Caur started painting human tragedy she created them in the backdrop of nature. She took natural elements from miniatures, the curved horizon line of the Basohli School, the painted trees and waves of water that stood for melancholic lyricism and the lilting narrative.
Buddhas and Nanaks
"When I look at Arpana's Nanak I am grounded, his gaze is a search that embraces humanity," said friend and author Khushwant Singh in 1998. You are reminded of Khushwant's words when you look at the Nanak and the yogic Buddhas in the collection.
Caur's Nanak reflects the literature and philosophy of Punjab – there are strains of spiritual melancholy, deep rooted mysticism and discipled devotion while the Pahari miniature tradition provides inspiration for Caur's structuring of pictorial space with minimalist elements. Her yogic Buddhas are defined by their blue silhouettes, their probing eyes watching the world even as the bones of death float around them defining a pathos filled penumbra.
Sohni and Sufi
Sufi traditions and Sohni Mahiwal become narratives that straddle the spiritual and the idea of the folk myth. Caur weaves her imagery on the tale in which Sohni drowns when the pot she's using as a buoy crumbles in the water. In Sufi and Bhakti traditions , great love translates into a connection with God. Caur depicts Sohni's transcendence from the mortal world in the form of a figure sitting on floating clouds, the earthen pots in the top corner, trees sprouting out of cumulus clouds. Love triumphs over death. 40 years of Caur gave us a masterclass in the art of figuration. At the NGMA Bangalore art lovers were drawn into a miasma of reflections and ruminations woven into the canvas of the dualities of time. In the capital city in Delhi students and teachers and art lovers stood and inhaled the narrative of one of India's most versatile creators of the human form.The greatest artist Pablo Picasso said: " To draw,one must close one's eyes and sing." That is what the contours of Caur's canvasses and paper works do. They sing to us of the past and the present. One only wished the dates of the paintings were kept at eye level instead of being stuck at broom level in the art gallery.
(Images: Courtesy Arpana Caur)

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