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A Piece of My Mind

Mridula Sinha’s art is not only a reflection of nature and surroundings, but also triggers the mind to see newness in simple things, especially through an inner eye, says Alka Chadha Harpalani

“I want to reach the state of condensation of sensations, which constitutes a picture. Perhaps, I might be satisfied momentarily with a work finished at one sitting, but I would soon get bored looking at it; therefore, I prefer to continue working on it so that later I may recognize it as a work of my mind.”

Henri Matisse

Prof Mridula Sinha has carved her niche with her individualistic approach in the field of visual art. The creative stimulus has urged her to continue on its path to seek entities within and without. She doesn’t make paintings like a craftsman, but tries to catch through the mind’s eyes. The merging contours create myriad dimensions in mind and change the perception of the viewer. One glance at her work pulls the vision inside and lets it travel through the layered views crystallised gradually with realisations and experimentations. In a way the varied lines and uneven appearance, reflect the spirit of Varanasi, which cannot be a direct single look to understand a place, but has multiple magnitudes of thoughts and antiquity behind it. She is a sensitive artist who likes an organic layout more than a structured and a planned one. Her expression is enriched with the pictorial elements, which leads to an unfixed direction, an expansion of involvements of multiple dimensions, unveiling through layers and layers of visual dialogues and different levels of the creation.

Among the constantly prevailing themes which contribute to Mridula’s art is Varanasi. There are numerous forces behind Varanasi, like intellectual, artistic and ritualistic. Apathy in day-to-day doings, common scenes like spitting of paan all around; and faith has become a base to the tactile surfaces, which inspired the artist in her expressions. On one hand there are birth celebrations at Assi Ghat, while on the other, the last rites at Manikarnika Ghat. And the beauty is that unlike other places, every ritual is open for all whoever is roaming around or present at the ghat to witness. The concept and reality of life and death can be seen on the platform of ghats. This contrast of transient and permanence keeps on sinking in while walking through a happy occasion too, churning the thought process and not letting one forget the reality and its acceptance. One gaze towards the sky while walking in the narrow lanes of old Varanasi gives you a feeling of sky being captured in the grating and grills, stuck in the patterns of unruly wires spread all across the entrances of the houses. These lines, light and dark patches of the confined areas, in contrast, lead to the expansion and openness of the ghats. The interaction with people on ghats exposes their countless mindsets regarding religion and its essence. The city has a special character to it, where unknowingly past and present travel hands in hand. While walking from Tulsi Ghat and Panch Ganga Ghat, one can see through the past clinging to so many aspects, detached yet closely entangled with the present. All these tiny observations surface on the paintings and drawings of Mridula.

It is not only her experiences of the place and the ambiance, which get reflected in her works. It is actually sometimes the literary content that plays a passive, yet vital role in the background which consolidates with the capturing or exploring of the perceived space. Prem Chand’s stories captivated her and she could associate with certain components, the subconscious play of thoughts, childhood experiences, all which comes out in her paintings directly or indirectly. She has not illustrated them but has tried to catch the essence behind. The contemplations of the reading, connecting and analysing the same stories of childhood after years, which were enjoyed during the summer vacations, where one could now understand the factors and behaviours in a new light of social norms, status, sects and surroundings. These observations of the narratives as well as the happenings during the phase come forward in black and golden colours in the artwork, which gradually gained colour over time in the textures, scribbles, dabs and distortions. Many of the elements can be seen in her series of Ablution. The shuddhi or purification of mind instead of the superficial physical body is what matters to her the most, which gets transformed on her paper in the form of Ablution. She has made a few paintings on his stories like ‘Kafan’, ‘Godaan’ and ‘Poos ki Raat’, which get pictorially so powerful, enfold and embrace many aspects like genesis, psychological under-layers and highlights, reasoning behind the nature of the characters and even the visual vocabulary, where the language also is not a barrier to connect. She conveys a symbolic message portraying the complexities of the surrender to the social system. She explores and experiments through her work addressing these issues compassionately.

The diverse motions of nature can be seen flowing into human emotions. This was a phase where Mridula was adapting to the technology and trying to arrest innumerable components of the physical and virtual world of creativity. She was enjoying reconnoitring the ‘chance’ factor. A few selectively picked sketches from her sketchbook amalgamated with accidental CorelDraw effects. There was a merger of two innovative languages, experimented over the scans of drawings done over time. The journey has been cognizant for her, were the extracts, meanings, relations, and names cropped up after pondering for long. While creating, her process is not a conscious one, but the subconscious mind has picked up all the essential tools very intelligently. ‘Catharsis in Colours’, ‘Self and its aberration’, ‘Encounters anonymous uncanny’ have also been her themes of solo exhibitions. Her home had always been engulfed among the trees with dog, cows and even rabbit adding to the setup. That is the reason ‘Trees’ have been a subject of many of her exhibitions and appear on and off in her works lost in abstractions yet forming their own distinctiveness. ‘Catharsis in colour’ is a series made for an exhibition in the USA, reflecting the old city of Varanasi- more in less. “Varanasi, the oldest city, the city of ghosts, the city of lights, call it what you will, is my city. I live there, work there, laugh and cry there. It is also my city because it offers me boundless life and eternal life after death, all at the same moment. Light and dark, sorrow and exultation, are all on offer, select what you will. I have been greedy enough to select each in turn. I thought it was my duty to experience all, to be able to vivify my experiences parsimoniously.” She has used numerous media and loves exploring oil, acrylics, water colours, charcoal, inks and graphite for an apt expression on different surfaces without caring for the commercial aspects of the art market. ‘Ablution’ has been a series enriched with intellect, conscious thought process behind it and built up in layers by layers in a subtle way for an apt expression. Water soluble inks and pencils, mediums aiding wear away and eraser were used over less absorbent coated paper, and later on applications of coats for increasing the absorbency to create the effects of watermark and eroding of stone, symbolising the bitter reality of erosion of sensitivity in the people. Kneaded rubber treatment at selected areas and formations of lines through free yet controlled flow of water, which pulled the colours along for natural effect created without brushstrokes, added more intensity to the theme. She loves the tactile quality in an art work and that’s why likes leaving sensitive marks in her paintings and drawings.

One witnesses no stagnation in Mridula’s thoughts, which gets etched in her continuous experimentations with her work. Her work is not stylized, with no repetition of a particular form or style. She has a flexible and progressive approach, and tries to create variations with forms and space. She feels that these bitter-sweet experiences and encounters are the ones which lead to expansion of mindset. The incessant route of realisations, insights and attitude of always ready to grasp something new lead to her explorations with chiaroscuro, probing the possibilities in sketches and photography. She has tried to arrest the philosophy of life even in a simple process of hair turning grey during the pandemic lockdown in an entrancing way, overlapping the meandering lines, controlled doodle, and blend of bold and linear elements over the photograph, through her drawings gelling with chromatic quality. She is reaching wholeness through a minimal approach. There is orchestration of shapes, varied and imaginative, frolicking with the waves, lines and texture of the offered base.

Mridula had been travelling to various places in India as her father was a doctor, husband was in the Army; and both had a transferable job. Her father was very fond of photography. She can still vividly remember a few of the captured by him. Her elder sister was a very good painter, and became her inspiration. She loved observing her play of shadings and drawings done with charcoal and used to copy her work. Her reminiscences include drawing over the doors with chalks and making handmade cards, lots of books at home, walls full of father’s photographs, a calendar by Mohan Meakins’ Breweries which exposed her to the works of BN Arya. She recalls fondly her artistic interactions and conversations with her mentors DP Dhuliya in Gorakhpur and Dilip Das Gupta, KS Kulkarni and RC Shukla, while pursuing her studies at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi. She not only finished her BFA, MFA and PhD from Faculty of Visual Arts, BHU, bagging a Gold Medal in both BFA and MFA courses, but also joined as a faculty at her alma mater in 1985, and held administrative posts of Head of the Department and Dean of the Faculty too. She has to her credit the esteemed Senior Fellowship from MHRD and Commonwealth Academic Staff Fellowship at Wimbledon School, London, too. As a teacher for 35 years, she feels content as the process is not only of imparting knowledge to the students, but also of open-mindedness to new dimensions and evaluating oneself with the interactions with creative minds. Her visits to museums and art galleries in places like Rome, Florence and Venice in Italy; Paris in France; London, Parth, Cardiff in the UK; New York, Brockport, Rochester in the USA and Philippines exposed her to various art forms, world art scene, and a mindset beyond the limited learnings. Her work is in the collections of many reputed institutions like National Gallery of Modern Art; UP Lalit Kala Academy, Lucknow; Kerala State Lalit Kala Academy, Thrissur; Godrej Industries Ltd, Wipro India Ltd, Mumbai; The Indian Hotels Company Ltd, Taj Mahal Hotel Tata Group, Mumbai; J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, Jammu; Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd. New Delhi; several defence establishments and many other private collections in India and abroad. Her paintings have been encased many times in National Art Exhibition held by Lalit Kala Akademi. She has attended many art camps, workshops, symposiums and seminars. She has been an esteemed member of numerous renowned organisations, naming a few like Advisory Committee, AKASHVANI, Varanasi; Jury member and selection committee members of several art organisations; Nominated member of Council, UP State Lalit Kala Academy as Painter of Eminence; Visiting Artist at the New York State School of the Arts; Member of Academic Council BHU and many more. Prof Mridula Sinha is presently associated with ‘d’ art gallery, Varanasi as Director, which supports the worthy artists to follow their dreams in the field of art, and over the years have formed a family of literary people and artists and keeps on holding workshops, talks and events for art exposure.

Mridula had many sponsored shows in India and abroad. The solo show titled ‘Meri samvedna ke Prem Chand’ got exhibited in India International Centre, New Delhi, which was sponsored by Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi. Her work has been published on the cover page of many prestigious publications. Articles on her work have been published in Sammkaleen Kala by Lalit Kala Akademi and a few prestigious literary magazines.

‘Ablution’ was sponsored by Indus Art Gallery, Sarnath, Varanasi; another show was sponsored by Greenwood Art Gallery, New Delhi. She was a visiting Faculty in Brockport campus, University of The State of New York, the State Education Dept Albany, New York. She was a visiting fellow at Wimbledon School of Art, London under Commonwealth staff fellowship too.

In a few words, one can sum up by saying that Mridula’s work engulfs the whole process of life, surroundings and creation, which if analysed, is a delineation of or a consequence of a tussle, acceptance as well as rejection. Her art is not only a reflection of nature and surroundings, but also triggers the mind to see newness in simple things, especially through the inner eye.

– The writer is a Bengaluru-based artist.