Early exposure to art, music, and literature, Arpana Caur is now a leading Indian artist. Born in 1954, in New Delhi, and graduated from Delhi University in Literature, she has been keen on expressing social concerns through her artistic language persistently. At the age of nine, she made her first oil painting, featuring a ‘mother-daughter’ relationship. Self -trained artist, her artistic language is highly inspired by the events from real life and her mother’s strong influence.
Caur’s artistic expressions include oil paintings, murals, sculptures, book Illustrations, and installations. She has exhibited her works worldwide and accumulated a gamut of cultural experiences. Although her artworks cater to feminist ideology, she prefers to be called a humanist. Caur’s artworks are mostly themed on a mystical journey, mythology,
abstract, concerning socio-political causes, feminine inspiration from the subject of Yogini, and among others like time, life, death, and environment.
Read about Caur’s comprehensive representations, while she shares about her diverse journey.
“I have never done anatomically correct figures as I like simplifications and abstractions in my figurations like it was in our ancient paintings and sculptures.”
AA: Please shed some light on your Hiroshima murals. How did you procure that project?
AC: I had received a letter, in 1994, from Hiroshima Museum. For the 50th anniversary of the bombing, they had commissioned ten international artists. My work had been exhibited in group shows of Japan, around the early 80s, through NGMA. They were well covered in media and Japanese newspapers. Consequently, in the exhibition at the Hiroshima Museum, they called me ‘Mr. Arpana Caur’ and I never tried to correct them purposely. During that time, in Japan, women artists were not regarded seriously, unlike today.
AA: How and when did you exactly start with Book illustrations?
AC: I had written one story on the subject of ‘time’. And, I had illustrated and self published it, which fortunately led to other opportunities. One day, Khushwant Singh and his daughter, Mala Dayal, both approached me to illustrate Hymns of the Sikh Gurus and I was overjoyed to do it. For Guru Nanak’s 550th year, the book has been published in several languages and has received wider reach.
“I was not afraid even when I exhibited my paintings soon after 1985, with dead bodies figuring prominently in those works.”
AA: The sculptures are in metal and they are perforated. What inspired you to experiment in a different medium?
AC: My sculptures are cast, not perforated. I like flat sculptures. They are brass. I practiced etching from the 1980s, in Lalit Kala Studios, Garhi. I find them challenging because the result is unpredictable as the time needed to etch the plate in acid varies; whereas in painting you can witness the result instantly. Murals have a wider reach, while I worked non-commercially, depicting social and environmental concerns and how we, humans, have deteriorated the ecology.
Don’t be satisfied with stories
how things have gone with others
untold your own myth
When she paints her canvas, it is her narrative conjoined with emotions, which is rather difficult to distinguish. She painted Life Goes On soon after the 1984 riots, which she defines as the 1984 Genocide. In the world where gentleness has no space, Caur, as a soothing and powered woman, fights for trees and monuments at a public park near her house at Sri Fort, New Delhi. She joins advocate H S Phoolka in protests at Jantar Mantar every year for the justice of the victims.
“When my paintings are hung in museums abroad, they say ‘I am an Indian painting’.”
AA: I like your experimental murals, which are so conceptual and convey deeper socio-political messages. Could you share us with details and contexts murals like Painting is not Dead and Do Gaj Zameen?
AC: Painting is not Dead implies that painting as an art form will never disappear despite the onset of the digital age. Do Gaj Zameen depicts two important leaders of our society. One: Bahadurshah Zafar was sent to exile by the British to Burma, where he, later, died. Two: M.F. Husain, who was our treasure, was also forced to go in exile and eventually buried in a foreign land, though he loved his motherland.
AA: You paint a variety of subjects. Please share more with our readers.
AC: My subjects are universal, comprising environmental issues, violence, peace, spirituality, but I always use elements from our miniature or folk tradition. When my paintings are hung in museums abroad (Singapore, Bradford, V&A, Dusseldorf, etc) they say ‘I am an Indian painting’.
She perceives that art is not meant for harmony but to depict societal tension and conflicts. We live in a world where conflicts, problems, and anxieties have become periodic characteristics of our life. Amidst this incessant unrest, Arpana Caur paintings present the believers with a bout of truth, and honest opinion, disclosing the unearthed realities.