By Raj S. Rangarajan *
If it’s March, it’s Spring and start of the art season. For the basketball fan, it is March Madness. Among the annual art events are shows from IAAC – the New York-based premier South Asian institution for art, films, theater, dance, et al. – Indo American Arts Council.
For the first time, IAAC decided to cross the Lincoln Tunnel and move west to Bedminster, New Jersey – a shot in the arm for Garden State’s collectors and art aficionados.
Titled Erasing Borders 2016 Exhibition of Contemporary Indian Art of the Diaspora, 24 artists of South Asian origin from North America have displayed their artworks and the inaugural on March 17 comprised established artists and wannabes from far-flung states such as California and Maryland.
South Asian Outlook caught up with two of the artists who have their works on display – Norbert Gonsalves and Rochana Dubey. An art director from New York city, Norbert calls his piece Despite and Hope 1, an encaustic on wood panel with feminine symbols such as charred sari fabric and broken glass bangles. The artist terms them “Dowry Deaths which are well-documented in India, when a young bride is doused with kerosene and her saree set aflame, and occasionally killed in a futile attempt to extract additional dowry money from the bride’s family.”
Norbert adds, “I literally scorch and burn traditional sarees, bangles and chains to fashion misshapen forms that allude to the legacy of these victims of male patriarchal violence.”
A Graphic Design student at the J.J. Institute of Applied Art in Mumbai, India, Norbert has been making art since a very young age under the influence of his late artist father, J.W. Gonsalves. Having moved to North America at age 29, with stints in Toronto, Canada, Norbert now operates out of this studio near New York city. His vivid, large-scale, mixed media works on canvas are still very much anchored to his Indian homeland as evidenced in the piece on display. He is also into sculpting, and his work offers a conflation of painting and drawing, realism and abstraction, with found objects such as fabric incorporated for texture and density.
For Calcutta-born artist Rochana Dubey introspection and looking inward seem to work. She expands, “If I was good with words, I’d write a book. So I paint to tell my story. Conveying thousands of ideas, theories or simply a moment of intense feeling is what I do with my art. Love, passion, fear, insecurity – and now with age – spirituality, have all found expressions in my work.”
In her four-feet square acrylic on canvas – Is it really You or is it Me? – seen here, she has used multiple abstract layers to weave this thought together. “I have used symbolism of the lotus bud and its reflection, the silhouette in the background and the extended seeking hand, around the central face.” Vision, the recurring motif in her paintings, depicts self-realization and the knowledge of its power.
“With my new series, Discoveries, the attention turns inwards to reflect on one’s state of mind in different life-scenarios. Humanity at large needs to rethink and recalibrate. Instead of pointing fingers at each other and our religion, faiths and practices, we need to reconsider what it means to simply be alive. Live and let live. Isn’t the next person as human as oneself? Isn’t the color of his blood the same as mine? Isn’t his heart bleeding for the loss of a loved one – the same way mine is? Isn’t our God the same – the ONE in whose image we have been created? So we believe…and so we must act.”
Adds Rochana, “My experiments have been explorations of my abilities and attempts at understanding nuances of the rapidly changing social landscape around me. My training allows me the flexibility of expressing myself in various media.”
In philosophical strain, the artist extrapolates: There is so much violence all over the world today. To seek solace or direction, we pray to our respective gods or higher power or guide – that constant presence that seems to calm our minds and make sense of it all.