ADITI SAIGAL & HER ARTWORKS
Catalogue Write Up
In the interstice between quiet and silence
I try to hush
What’s grey in me
Paint it in the colors of the rainbow
Layer by layer
Till I can lose the black
Beneath the multi-hued palette of Aditi Saigal’s exuberant works, one finds a complexity of the mind that channels itself through an intricacy of technique, patterns, symbols and images, bringing forth a beauty, the kind that resonates only from one who has emerged from the pitches of black. The artist’s sustained relationship with the dualities of light and dark is a hallmark of her artistic practice. This yin and yang overflows from the canvas of her life onto the canvas of her artistic being. What, however, remains unique about Saigal is that instead of the usual parallelism between the internal and the external, her practice has an inherent complementarity where the personal and the creative lie in direct contrast to each other. Painting, then, is her seeming alterego, where she projects what she is not, or rather who she would like to be or experience. The act of painting, thereby, infuses hope when there is none to be found, in the process leaving her with a sense of being whole.
An architect to begin with, Saigal’s journey took a turn towards the artistic about ten years ago when she had to quit her full-time job due to various personal commitments. For a person who would conceptualize an image with a sketch, after several stages of evolution, metamorphosed into an actual physical structure, the intense overwhelming feeling of standing in a constructed space that had once only begun as an idea inside her head led Aditi to the realization that she could not pursue the profession half-way. Having an all-or-nothing approach, therefore, she let go of her career as an architect and entered a professional void that could not have sustained her creative spirit for long. What emerged thereafter was an outflow of energy that bloomed in colors that were not just incompatible with her void, but reversed it.
This split between the experiential and the expressive, led Saigal to be drawn towards the mediums of canvas and oils, which were unexplored territory for her at the time. She was going through a process of transformation in her personal life, although unaware of it at the time, and all the choices that subsequently came up, tilted towards the obscure. The choice of materials and the unhindered play and experimentation with a multi-hued color palette was a huge leap for a person who was used to constructing the meticulous and sophisticated concept designs of architectural buildings, almost like a rebellion against one’s own former self. It was a conscious expression of her freedom and her indomitable spirit.
It is this spirit of Aditi that filtered through one of her early works Unbreakable in which she painted a blind woman. The muse for the painting was a visually impaired teacher who had taught along with Saigal’s mother and who, despite her loss of visual faculties, constantly complimented her mother on the nature, colors and beauty of her sarees. Saigal was inspired to create this work as an ode to this woman’s fully alive spirit despite her physical handicap. The celebration of the human spirit that has the ability to thrive despite the odds, is an undercurrent that resonates across Saigal’s practice and which first led her to adopt the metaphor of a truck to depict the journey - struggles, hopes, beauty, pride, misery, battles and glory - of a human being, which is yet another carrier of the human spirit.
The visual metaphor for the Art on Trucks series was originally inspired from an image of multi-colored trucks found on Indian borders. The use of art by truck drivers to beautify their vehicles, which are their source of livelihood and pride, despite their rough lifestyles and mean incomes, inspired in her a sense of awe, culminating in the work Temples Within. Art, subsequently, became a means to celebrate the beauty of life and the resilience of the human spirit. The personification of the truck, subsequently, led to the creation of works that drew parallels between the vehicle as a carrier of goods and the human body as a carrier of life’s different roles and experiences. In the works Bride, Chameli, Mr Chameli, Tipsy Groom, Maharani and several others, the visual metaphor constantly transforms, dawning a distinctive personality for each of life’s different roles.
Saigal’s sustained relationship with the imagery of a truck continues in the Absence of Light series where she thrusts the vehicle in darkness forcing it to find its strength. The works Beasts of Burden I and II compare the role of the truck as a carrier to the human body that, like the former, has to bear and carry the burden of several of life’s experiences which take it on a roller-coaster journey. Self-Weight is another such work that draws a comparison between a carrier, whether a truck or a human, and an elephant, each of them carrying not just their own weight but also the weight of other things. The work is a silent acknowledgement of this substantial role. Even still, while some may bear the load silently, other’s rebel to survive as seen in works like Stinger, Fireflies, Metamorphosis and Ascent. While darkness can poison and drown some, as in the case of Stinger, in others it can catalyze the inner search for fortitude to develop wings and shine through. The latter works, then, are an expression of the victories one achieves after intense struggles.
This newfound confidence acquired through overcoming her own internal conflicts drove Saigal to paint Stop Me If You Can, a work which depicted two perpendicular trucks at a crossroads, uncertain about the future course of the journey. Despite the ambiguity of the situation, Saigal infuses the painting with a vitality of movement in the hope to escape the stagnancy of the moment. The act of painting, then, is a hope for a reverse osmosis of the depicted dreams and desires of her work back into her own life. It is no surprise, then, that Aditi’s vast color palette is a deliberate attempt to mirror the external vibrance into the inner void. An attempt like this, however, opens up a room of possibilities for a looming metamorphosis as portrayed in the work Deviant where juxtaposed against the myriad colors of the truck lies a dark room drawing the viewer inside a space of contemplation. The skepticism on account of the flawed judgements and choices of the past leaves one feeling confused, thereby awakening the Eye of Kali, as Aditi calls it. According to her, every woman, when faced with an extreme situation, whether on account of hurt, grief, misery or betrayal, undergoes a change of consciousness and the opening of the eye of Kali. This all-knowing eye, once opened, dawns the role of a protector, never to shut down.
Self-created visual symbols like the eye of Kali or the all-knowing eye are abounding in Saigal’s work. Her folk aesthetic and affinity towards intricate patterns are reflective of her embedded impressions of the patterns, lines, shapes and forms in her mother’s sarees that became a part of her identity early on and have filtered through her artistic expression. Her eclectic use of natural imagery, including birds, butterflies, fireflies, fish, peacocks, roses, and the tree of life, is not just inspired from the presence of these symbols on real-life trucks, but also represent her hope to reinstate the beauty, fortune, fertility, riches that they epitomize. Further, the presence of these forms and symbols across Indian mythological, geographical and cultural spheres adds to their relatability and serves the artist’s subtle need to be understood.
This need to be understood grows stronger and the dormancy of these previously hidden feelings erupts in the works Family Sofa and Cryptic. While the metaphorical language of symbols and beauty had satiated the artist or perhaps distracted her until now, they now fade into the background. The human figure, once again, becomes iconic. In these works, the mobile background of the paintings is juxtaposed against the still female figure, who as a caregiver, epitomizes the best of societal values. However, in an attempt to perfect each of the roles and functions of a caregiver or otherwise, the woman, much like a sofa, has turned into an object of utility rather than of value. In the act of extending herself above and beyond her means, the perfection achieved, if at all, excludes the very person trying to achieve it, resulting in her being devalued by others as well as herself. The paintings, then, depict the irony of perfecting each role in the interest of others, and compromising oneself for it, consequently creating a self-imposed prison of expectations.
The objectification of a once empowered woman and the lifeless state it leaves her in finally forces her to draw inwards to re-discover and acknowledge her constantly evolving self. Subsequently, in the paintings Sanctum Within and Carriers, Saigal illustrates the synthesis of her journeys till now, a culmination of all of her life’s experiences and the parallel roles she has occupied, whether as an individual, a caregiver, an artist, or simply a carrier for these experiences. In the work Sanctum Within, therefore, Saigal presents a seeming retrospective of her works in an art gallery found within the windscreen of the truck. The sanctum above the grill of the truck, although literally embodies a quiet space, however, it figuratively signals the realization of quietude inside of her thereby awakening the inner eye throughout her whole being. The twin lotuses blooming out of parched sand, then exemplify how beauty can be found in the unlikeliest of places.
This juxtaposition of a parched land and a blooming lotus and the subsequent transformation that births from the synthesis of the two is the undercurrent of the work Carriers. The visual imagery of a carrier within a carrier, highlights the inner mutation within the artist, wherein, much like a carrier, she enters the journey of life as one being and emerges as another. A renewed awareness of the existence of these parallel identities, perhaps not meant to integrate, coupled with an acceptance of the lack of need for the latter, paradoxically, leads her to emerge as a whole. This newfound wholeness is what inspires a shift in Saigal’s work from a metaphorical depiction of the body to a real one and now towards the boundless paramount female form with a mysticism, delving deeper into her role in the cycle of trimurti (trinity). Aditi is finally ready to emerge from the darkness and shed the symbolic skin of a truck as an iconic form, instead bringing the female icon to the forefront, in the process revealing, at least for the moment, the woman she was born as. An unwillingness to accept being stuck and an unceasing hope and effort towards change has imbued her work with the sensorial intensities of light and dark, hope and pain, yin and yang.
Like a firefly, darkness is the inevitable ingredient of her alchemy; art her resurrected self.
Art Writer & Poet