One indirect consequence of the valorization of the exhibition worthy, finished artwork is that the viewing audience rarely gets to see the ideational phase of an artist’s working method; the tentative visual probing (which often takes months) before an art work is finally realized. More often than not hesitant, fragmented, unclear and continually self-differing, sketch book notations are sites of confessional outpourings and are thus rarely shared by artists as exhibitory objects. Small in size and often tucked away as a reminder to be recalled when struggling for mental triggers, these visual markings signify a state of flux over the stability of the realized work; the very antithesis of completeness. The preparatory sketch thus offers insights into a work that is akin to entering into an open ended conversation with an artist, through which nuggets of information regarding the creative process may be gleaned.
In case of an artist of the stature of Anupam Sud; with decades of work behind her — ranging from monochromatic etchings to intimate watercolors and monumental canvas paintings, the works on view offer a thread of continuity between each method. As a variation from her meticulously executed etchings using the starkness of a black and white palette and the precision of an engraved line ( where each mark is final and almost impossible to revise or erase), or her densely built up canvases, a look at her watercolors and sketches, reveals an exploratory, fluid, questioning process. In making public her sketches and drawings, which prefigure her painstakingly, elaborated paintings and etchings, she offers us insights into how she has developed her figurative lexicon over the years. Mostly comprising of softly shaded drawings, overlaid with an aqueous layering of color, yet at times scoured over with graphically violent linear markings, these works, address a number of themes. Of these, several are directly connected to fully realized etchings and paintings, the studied outcomes of reflection, contemplation, and the resolving of subject matter, while a small but significant number are self introspective drawings of her own visage; as if seeking through this act of peering into a mirror and drawing, a way of self-realization in order to set up a relationship between the self and the other.
It is this incessant obsession with self portraiture that helps us link the other drawings
With Anupam’s life quite directly. She has rarely introduced a recognizable resemblance to her own self in her etchings. However, in her paintings, she often does introduce her own presence as a form of witnessing or self introspection. Often she weaves her personal experiences into the narratives as a way of fixing memory and feelings. For example in this body of work we see references to a loved one’s suffering caused by prolonged debilitating illness, a portrait of her father, themes of urban alienation, anxieties about the uterine reproductive economy; now harnessed to artificial technologies of conception and birth, and perhaps the most pronounced thematic — the tedium of socially fixed roles demanded of women in patriarchal societies.
This final theme, might seem odd given the fact that on a personal level, Anupam herself belongs to a generation that came of age, when women were beginning to question the illusory promises of romantic fulfillment and economic stability through marriage and were instead seeking a professionally assertive role for themselves as creative and independent beings, unwilling to accept a place within the "natural" order
of things. However in her social life within a middleclass household, she was constantly made aware of the contracted role offered to women as domestic ally enslaved subjects with their maternal, reproductive function their primary role. The subsequent disciplining of the female body, subjected to constant social injunctions on how to behave and the regulatory mechanisms that were put into place to limit their potential were familiar situations—more so because she came to be a pioneering figure in an institutional art world, dominated by men. Her drawings of women confined in bottles or else huddled into a fetal position; retreating into a protective space, are thus metaphoric evocations of the social closures which often confine and bind women down. On the other hand, in her mediated response to her social world: the publically known body of work — her etchings and paintings, in their preparatory drawings, she emphasis on women and their place in the world, their fleshiness —their constantly changing, protruding, sagging, shorn of hair physicality, their way of glancing/not glancing/ being subjected to invasive glancing, their physical comportment within the social landscape. Here, each image challenges and tests the patriarchal practice of confining women to the home and corralling them to preserve their “virtue” and limit their potential as active agents.
Catalogue Essay by Shukla Sawant