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signed and dated 'ARPITA SINGH 2004' (lower right); further twice signed and dated 'ARPITA SINGH / 2004' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
54 x 48 in. (137.2 x 121.9 cm.)
Painted in 2004
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner, circa 2004
D. Ananth, Arpita Singh, New Delhi, 2015, p. 180 (illustrated)

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Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari

Lot Essay

Arpita Singh’s compositions deploy an allegorical style that combines personal and mythical narratives which she describes as “a memory of something once known and since forgotten, like childhood or paradise.” Singh spent four years working in the Weavers' Service Centres in Calcutta and Delhi, and her paintings partly draw on the stylistic devices of the traditional Kantha embroidery from Bengal that she became familiar with there. Often embellishing the entire canvas with detailed forms and figures contained within ornamental borders, and foregoing perspective to emphasize figural relationships and patterns, Singh’s paintings repeatedly quote this textile tradition.

Singh’s paintings typically depict female protagonists surrounded by objects that are mundane and otherworldly, private and public, peaceful and violent. Through such juxtapositions, the artist subtly addresses challenging social and political subject matter while maintaining an overall impression of grace and quiet luminosity. In this painting, a field of seemingly unrelated signs and symbols separates Singh’s protagonist from two figures above her, a seated older man and a younger one facing away from the viewer. The woman, reclining on a bed next to a telephone, holds a small black diary, longing perhaps for reconnection with the figures above her. Scattered flowers, numbers, fragments of text and male hands populate the distance between the three figures. Poignantly, two of these floating hands hold pistols, possibly alluding to the violence that the departures of loved ones and the aging process wreak, particularly on women. Motifs like guns and numbers from calendar pages embody these “comings and goings, the inevitability and implicit danger of separation and reunion, and the inescapability of death. She makes the past and the faraway co-present, in the anticipation of separation, by travel or death.” (S. Bean, 'Now, Then, Beyond, Time in India's Contemporary Art', Contemporary Indian Art, Other Realities, Mumbai, 2002, p. 54)

Describing Singh’s visual vocabulary as fluctuating between playful and pained, Deepak Ananth observes that in her paintings, “the poetics of free association also becomes a politics, and it is the secret tension between these registers that constitutes the enigmatic force field of Singh’s work in the last twenty years. The figure/ground gestalt becomes transposed as a chiasmus of pleasure and pain; the surface remains as delectable as ever, but the deeper structure of the paintings is keyed to motifs of desolation and death [...] Mortality stalks Singh’s pictorial world.” (D. Ananth, ‘Profound Play’, Arpita Singh, New Delhi, 2015, p. 38)

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