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Pooja Iranna - A conversation of resonance with Aashna Abrol

Pooja Iranna has undeniably carved herself a befitting place in India’s contemporary art scene. Construction and mediums play a pivotal role in her work, creating structures that are composed of intersecting lines and forms, which connect in what essentially resembles an architectural blueprint. Through Pooja Iranna`s works, we are shown that man-made structures and the constructed environment unveil a great understanding of us and the connections we are entwined in.

My conversation with Pooja touched upon many poignant things including her family, inspiration, learning, medium, art practise, art journey, as well as her recent solo show, Silently.

AA: How did your fascination with Architecture begin? How did it become the inspiration in your artwork?

PI: I was born and raised in a metropolis - Delhi; the heart of it all, especially in and around Central Delhi, Connaught Place, Mandi House, which was also known as the hub of creative inspiration. The centre of thriving culture back in the 70s, Mandi House, also harboured the National School of Drama, several galleries including Lalit Kala Akademi and Triveni Gallery, auditoriums, etc. that saw a daily galore of activities like new exhibitions, local concerts, amongst other such events. These centres of culture bustled with activities every day, where I was brought up and moulded just by being a part of it. Numerous artists, belonging to various genres, would attend these events and encourage open discussions on art and culture. Art, therefore, became a part of my life!

Thereafter I reach a saturation point, I saw the skyline of the city change and develop with building and sprawling architecture over many years. Within a span of 10 to 15 years, almost every other building was a skyrise. I believe that this experience may have stayed with me and then resurfaced through my art practice.

Assorted AggrFork on acrylic sheet, 36 x 72 inches, 2018-19

Image Credit: Courtesy of Aicon Gallery, New York watercolours that have led to the choice of non-traditional medium in your practice? PI: As you previously mentioned in our conversation, you have noted that I have used several mediums and switched from one to another. Having said that, I began using stapler pins as a medium very late in my art practice.

I was trained as a painter. However, considering my family background - being born to artists Rameshwar and Shobha Broota, it did not take me a lot of time to gauge and understand art, mediums, techniques, etc.; I was initiated and exposed to this circle from the very beginning because grew up in my parent’s studios. But after a point, the fascination in contemporarily ‘traditional’ mediums declined and I wanted to try something different which would help me carve a niche for myself. On the flip side, I had to disregard the prejudices that came into the picture because I was the daughter of two very established artists.

Though I learned from them and all other practising artists around me indirectly, what truly stayed with me is my mother’s use of colour and my father’s grey-phase artworks. As you rightly expressed, my colour palette is very limited, which may also be attributed to my father’s choice of black and white. but to me, they are all that I need to express myself - nothing is amiss in my palette.

“Through most of my work, this gained knowledge manifests itself; the simultaneous fragile and austere nature of my artworks.”

Though not direct, these influences have been a part of my art practice.

Standing at the Edge, Mixed media on canvas, 60x 84 inches Image Credit: Artist Pooja Iranna

AA: From Paper Works to Silently, what significant changes have you noticed in your practice and works?

PI: A lot of changes; it has been 30 years now! Over the years, I have accumulated, understood, worked, and circled back to those mediums. I will never completely forget the mediums of the past. Say for example, while I am working on a video for Silently, simultaneously, I am also working on paper, or watercolour, or staple pins, etc. I can dodge mediums, shifting from one platform to another.

Pervasive Expansion 1, staple pins and mirror, installation spreading 120 x 96 inches (display variable), 2016-19, Image Credit: Courtesy of Aicon Gallery, New York

AA: How do you then make that choice of a particular medium like cement, wax, digital photography, etc.?

PI: I will accredit this to the passage of my journey as an artist. I was engaged for a long period with relief works, after which I began to think of the next medium I wanted to dabble with. I reach a saturation point with every medium, till I have fully explored it, especially when I work with them linearly. This is why I am always on the lookout for another medium that will help me establish my thoughts and supplement my expression. This new medium, then, fascinates me till I reach saturation again! Having said that, there is always room for experimentation, where I have to be convinced about the use of a medium and how it sits with my unique language. From paper works to digital photography, the shift happened when I visited London for the Charles Wallace scholarship. This is when the digital camera was introduced over there. So the fascination of how architectural spaces could fit into my camera frame owing to technology was a very exciting phase of my career when I decided to change my medium.

“I am an orthodox creator, where I feel everything belongs to me and everything has to come through me. I am like the mother of the material I choose to use because I want to mould it into my language.”

AA: Your works are pensive. Would you like to speak more about that?

PI: I am very glad that you have seen that in my work.

“The use of architecture in my work has also evolved from admiration to criticism.”

When you see a lot of something, you grow tired of it. When I show you grim architecture, you want to see something amiss in the scenario, which in this case is the environment. In the last 10-15 years, I have witnessed many characterless architectural clones that are conveniently being called products of globalisation; I have witnessed them in Gurgaon, Shanghai, New York, and even London.

My works now concentrate and bring the viewers attention to these clones that we are creating in the name of architecture. Referring to one of my video artworks, We Are Going Green, which blatantly points out our pseudo nature to rectify the effects of rampant architectural development. It points out the synthetic nature of our efforts to include nature in our surroundings like painting the building with greenwash, or carpeting floors with synthetic grass, etc. The video work, therefore, is a mirror to our poor efforts of ‘going green’!

Link to Video:

Silently, video, 10 minutes, 2020

Video Credit: Courtesy of Aicon Gallery, New York

Our conversation ended on a note about Pooja’s latest body of works, in Silently, that highlight and showcase a suffocating concrete, metal, architectural jungle that aims to rattle the viewer about encroachment, urban overgrowth, and the need for ecological redressal. The artworks are hard-hitting and beckon people to stop living vicariously, disrespecting the environment. She also speaks about how her latest solo show had to be stopped abruptly because of the pandemic, which made her recognise the empty abundance of the sprawling buildings vis a vis our human needs that can be satiated easily. However, our growing and never-ending needs to get the best of us and the environment.

She hopes, however, that we choose better.

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