Torii Gateway and Enclosure – Dark Secrets /Archana Hebbar Colquhoun

The murder of Naina Sahni – shot dead by her husband and her body stuffed in a tandoor oven to be burnt to cinder at an upmarket restaurant in New Delhi coincided with my exhibition of Torii sculptures and paintings at the LTG gallery in June 1995.

The principal installation of a Torii gateway in this exhibition was made using wooden planks that were coated with a clay and straw mixture. The Torii structure was erected with supports of low brickwork walls arranged in the form of a courtyard of a traditional Indian home. The brick structure contained within its walls mini gateways made of two bricks placed upright with one horizontal brick placed across at the top, to create little entryways.

At the start of designing the installation, I had originally planned to place in the courtyard space a collection of moulded objects that acted as signifiers or markers of early human history.

This idea of attempting to depict the history of civilization suddenly gave way when I heard of a horrific “Breaking News” item of the Tandoor Murder case just as I was working on the installation.

After I heard the news, my work changed – the structure remained more or less the same as initially planned – but the contents that were to be placed in the courtyard were replaced by objects such as charred remains of coconut shells, other burnt articles, and a full head of a woman’s hair as if yanked in one stroke and flung at the foot of the Torii gateway.

The uploaded image shown below is a doctored one with two images of the same work almost mirroring each other. When the main Torii work was created in the gallery as an installation I had titled it “Boundaries of Experience.” Broadly speaking, the title still holds even after the intrusion – into my work in progress – of an unrelated subject that of a gruesome murder that took place at a walking distance from the gallery.

An important lesson I learnt from doing this show was that when an idea starts to take the shape as an art object a dynamic, external entity may completely hijack your carefully planned art work.


The original title of the work was “Boundaries of Experiences”

Shalini Patel- Banana Tree Drawings during Lockdown/ Archana Hebbar Colquhoun

Shalini Patel’s drawings, some in pencil and others in charcoal were done during lockdown. Nowhere to go, nothing much to do outside with friends, acquaintances or passers-by; she had all the time on her hands and the opportunity to observe the banana trees in her neighbour’s yard. For these drawings the view was from the first floor balcony of her house.

It’s these banana plants that lent themselves to serve as artistic models to Shalini’s black and white drawings of 2021. Before we discuss the formal content of the drawings and Shalini’s very own interpretation of this tropical wonder of nature, let’s look at the distinctive form of a banana plant. In fact, there are three distinctive forms in the main within a single banana plant – the trunk, the fruits, and the leaves. A banana plant is often referred to as a tree due its size.

The trunk of a banana plant has a plump tubular form, soft, flexible, fibrous within and covered in layered sheaths, unlike the wooden trunks of shrubs and trees. The leaves are large, very large, and radiate out and become floppy all too soon. Each leaf is an individual growth separating out directly from the trunk, starting off as a cylinder that slowly unfurls and opens out to the familiar shape of a banana leaf. Then there are the bananas themselves, which grow in multi-levelled clusters, each banana pointing upwards and attached to a thick stalk that droops from the weight of several dozens of bananas, and at the end of the stalk grows a large purple-hued blossom of tightly packed petals.

All parts of a banana plant have their use. The fruits and the blossoms are edible, the leaves are used in cooking and most commonly serve as disposable plates in India, and the fibre in the trunks provide material for making ropes, baskets and mats etc. Parts of the trunk are also edible. It is said that each plant produces fruits and blossoms just once in its lifetime and then the plant is cut-down and in its place there’s a new plant ready and waiting to become a full-fledged banana plant. Considering this, Shalini’s drawings are perhaps the only record of the existence of those specific banana plants, which lived through the lockdown and by now will have become dead matter. Shalini observed the changes the banana plants underwent and recorded them in sketches and drawings.

Form and Content of the Drawings

Banana plants have been widely represented in Indian art and art of other countries. Although banana plants are ubiquitous in the tropical climate of India as Shalini said to me she had never before drawn a banana plant or its many plant parts until last year.

The drawings are variously titled “The Banana Tree,” “Composition from the Banana Tree,” “Friends to Look At,” “Song of a Bird,” “The Night,” etc. and “Composition,”

The works range from the depictive to the abstract. The earlier works in this group of drawings were more depictive such as those titled “Compositions from a Banana Tree” and progressively the drawings became more minimalist and abstract and simply titled “Composition.”

When an artist titles a work “Composition” or “Untitled” there is an immediate understanding on the part of the viewer that the subject matter or the formal reality of the work has been constructed as a design, bereft to a large extent of marks of identity as to what the work is about. The works titled “Composition” in Shalini’s banana tree drawings are arrangements of elements of a banana plant, such as a small section of a banana leaf, a portion of a stem or the trunk and other forms within the plant. Shalini devices ways to depict the forms and textures of a banana leaf such as the ridges that extend from the spine to the curvy edge of the leaf, which are a series of parallel lines, the leaf in the process of unfurling, and the natural splits that occur along the ridges in the leaf over time. We may presume that the various elements in any given drawing in this series are put together by breaking apart the view and arranging the elements into a composition drawn from the artist’s imagination.

However, in the case of these works the compositions are as they existed within the growth of the banana trees, which the artist observed and then drew without rearranging any of the elements. It was a matter of merely selecting a frame consisting of a pre-existing composition that appealed to the artist. Still, it is to be noted that many of the drawings have compositions made up of diagonals and radiating lines, which we may not associate with the vertical trunks and the characteristic curved forms of a banana plant.

The compositions have areas that are filled with textures drawn from the banana plant with negative spaces in-between, creating a play of dark and light forms. Despite the abstraction and given the non-descriptive title “Composition” of many of the works they leave no room for doubt as to the source of the subject, namely, that the forms and textures are clearly drawn from a banana plant, however fragmented, and no other plant or object.

The title “Compositions from a Banana Tree” that many of the works carry is telling. The preposition “from” denotes that the artist is not the all-powerful creator for whom subject matter is something to simply reach out to and grab and make it the very own property of the artist. Through the title the artist acknowledges that the “Banana Tree,” the protagonist of the works, is the giver and the artist the receiver.

Many of the drawings have representational elements and are simple narratives of fleeting activities of birds and squirrels among the banana trees.  The work titled “Friends to look at” is one such drawing where the elements are drawn with a sensitivity and expressiveness that I wouldn’t hesitate to say are feminine in their impact. The drawing depicts squirrels running along a wire, which crosses through banana trees. The work is not merely charming, it has the pathos of a life lived during a prolonged period of a global lockdown – pitting freedom against incarceration.

Another work, a charcoal drawing titled “Song of a Bird “shows a bird in the left foreground with its beak open. The work evokes sound through visual representation and by the choice of words for the title. 

In some of the works we see people on the ground but they are diminutive in the presence of the seemingly towering banana trees. Even the clusters of upturned bananas look like groups of people wearing shrouds, huddled together. These works give prominence to nature and raise the debate of man Vs nature.

The work in charcoal titled “The night” has many surprising features. The night is not dark; however, the large banana leaf, again only a fragment of a leaf- its lower half- occupying nearly three quarters of the space within the composition – along with other elements in the drawing is depicted in dark tones. Touching the edge of the leaf is the full moon surrounded by a dark circle and in the vicinity is a lone star, prominent because of its shape that of the Star of David. Shalini’s interpretation of a night-time view is unique/original.

Shalini’s set of drawings titled “Harmony” are being exhibited in Bhilwara, Rajasthan, at Akriti Art Gallery from 5th. to 9th. Sept., 2022. The exhibition is sponsored by the Gujarat State Lalit Kala Akademi.

The General having crossed a Torii boundary – Drawing with a Torii and a figure

The trajectory of my art practice takes on a zigzag path sometimes; and at other times a circuitous one or a U-turn that I didn’t expect to take.
The work “The General” is one such. I started off with figure sculptures and then went on to study life drawing at Boston University.

A Novel Solution – My First Sculpture/Archana Hebbar Colquhoun

Life to Art (and back to Life)

I saw the person walking backwards, moving with a rhythm well practised, as they would when facing forward and walking straight on. So far so good but within a split second the image of the person walking became clear.

I was amazed at the sheer simplicity of the innovation.

The problem resolution was ingenious. Footwear was cleverly adapted to be worn back to front, making the body of the man face the opposite direction to his feet.

A passing glance at this man walking on the street, comfortable in his skin, gave me little information as to whether his condition was congenital or was the result of an amputation (medically required or a deliberate act as in “Slumdog Millionaire”). Whatever the case may have been, it was certain that the pair of shoes he wore were of the same size.

The Making of the Sculpture

Carving a life-sized figure not only requires technical knowhow of how a form is to be sculpted and also the wherewithal (studio space, tools etc.) but most importantly a material that would lend itself to giving form and expression to the image you have in mind. I found a ready solution in the form of large blocks of polystyrene that were available in Tokyo outlets, easy to carve, lightweight for a person of my physical frame to move and manipulate as required.

When I made the sculpture and explained to friends and viewers that the concept of a man walking with his feet facing backwards was no allegory or a metaphor but something I had actually witnessed, few believed me – at least readily.

The sculpture shown below is a faithful depiction of my memory of the person I passed by in the street in as far as the main feature of “a man walking backwards” (seen from the point of view of the feet) is concerned.  But there are other metaphorical features to the form of the body, all of which are hidden at the back. They are revealed only when the viewer goes around the sculpture to inspect the feet. (Refer to note below)

Front view of sculpture titled "A Novel Solution" by Archana Hebbar Colquhoun.
Life size, Polystyrene block carving, Tokyo
A Novel Solution – Sculpture carved from a polystyrene block, Tokyo late 1980s

NOTE: The Secret Weapons Hidden Behind

  • The man carries a bundle on his back which is integral to his body such that the bundle which could be a bag of tricks is also a part of his physiognomy.
  • The arm that he conceals behind is a formation of his extremity that can act as a tool that he could spring as a surprise weapon at an opponent who may pose a threat.

Art and Life are interrelated, one does not exist without the other and the two come together unexpectedly and at surprising intervals.

An example of this is a recent reference in digital media to the same issue that relates to my sculpture ….. (From Life to Art and back to Life)

On one of my many subconsciously motivated searches on Google, I one day came across the following photo article about Howie Desjarlais. It was now my turn to be taken by surprise.

I had witnessed a scene, I made a sculpture of the principal figure in the scene – the figure frozen in three dimensional form….and then, as if to reiterate the whole experience of me seeing and making of an image, I come across a document about Howie Desjarlias that indirectly pays homage to the life of the unnamed individual and to me an entirely anonymous person who I pass by on the street and who becomes the subject of my first life-size sculpture.

Provided below is the link to the article


” …he landscapes yards around Regina to earn money for his family, despite losing both of his legs from the knee down. (Cory Coleman/CBC)”

Archana Hebbar Colquhoun

The General having crossed a Torii boundary/Archana Hebbar Colquhoun

The General

The trajectory of my art practice takes on a zigzag path sometimes; and at other times a circuitous one or a U-turn that I didn’t expect to take.

The work “The General” is one such. I started off with figure sculptures and then went on to study life drawing at Boston University.

After returning to Tokyo, where I started my art practice, instead of going forward on the path of figurative works, I veered off into abstraction and minimalist expression – the Torii gateway being the most significant of them all.

Once I had done a body of work using that very simple form of a Torii as a sculpture, as drawings, in installations etc. using a range of medium and materials, I yet again changed direction and returned to figure drawing.

Here is an example of a drawing that came to me after a not very straightforward journey.

The Torii form is only alluded to in this work. Why the image of a General though?

The Context

One of the most magnificent set of Toriis in Japan is in the heart of Tokyo, all of those Toriis leading to the famous Yasukuni Jinja (a Shinto Shrine) founded by the Meiji emperor in June 1869. The shrine commemorates the death of Japanese soldiers and members of public in a number of wars starting from the civil war also known as the Japanese Revolution of the late 1860s through to the First Indo-China war.  

The shrine also commemorates over a thousand convicted Japanese war criminals from World War II.

In any war, whether you consider the dead soldiers as war heroes or war criminals there is always a General. It is this figure of a General that is depicted in the drawing.

The Torii represents a boundary. Wars are waged to gain control over territories that lie beyond a nation’s boundary.

For more information on the Yasukuni Jinja follow the Wikipedia link provided below.

Madan Lal Gupta – Innovations in Bricks/Archana H Colquhoun

This is an extract from a long series of exchanges via email and WhatsApp with the sculptor, Madan Lal Gupta, which started in November 2017 (with me living in the U.K. and the artist in Varanasi, India). The exchanges are largely in the form of an interview, with me posing questions to the artist. However, within the framework of an interview I included various constructs for a study of the artist’s work. I interspersed my queries with narrations of my own experiences drawn from my practices as an art critic and a visual artist. The exchange(s) will be referred to at various points as “the Project.

  • The Methodology of the Project

In the exchanges with Madan Lal, I employed a method of inquiry, which free-wheeled between art historical methodologies such as formalism, iconography, semiotics, biographical study, psychoanalysis, and social and critical theories, among others; the interchange between methods happened spontaneously as the project grew. 

The project with Madan Lal gave me the opportunity to experiment with the uses and applications of various art methodologies. I would like to use a term integrated methodology” to describe the mixed approach I used in putting together this project. When I started working on the project with the artist, I already had my bag of tricks ready. The stratagems grew and multiplied as the project developed.

Due to the passion and involvement that Madan Lal brought to this project, providing me with (unwavering commitment) all of the visual and written material I requested of him, at various stages, the exchanges took on a form so expansive that they turned into a major project.

  • Without an artist cooperating and participating in a synergistic working with a critic on the study of their work, a project such as the present one would not come to fruition. The project by no means is complete and the exchanges can be presented in a number of different formats.

My ideas for an integrated methodology for the study of visual art came about as a direct result of me setting aside the practice of art criticism to reinvent myself as a visual artist in the late 1980s and 1990s, after I moved to Tokyo.

Aspects of the integrated methodology that I employed in this project can be seen in the extracts below on Madan Lal’s brick works.  Simply put the methodology has a non-linear, inquiry-based approach into which is woven an analytical working of the study of an artist’s work taking the artist’s own articulations of their thought processes, out of which their artworks materialize.

A multidirectional investigation, deconstruction and reconstruction, associative thinking, and a seamless reversal of roles between the artist and the critic are the chief characteristics of the integrated methodology I developed while working on the project.

Through this method of inquiry a meeting, merging, and shifting of roles of the artist and the theoretician takes place. By involving the artist in an exchange that is unpredictable and which changes course unexpectedly, the artist is provoked into reassessing their work and looking back at the artistic choices they made.

By participating in such an exchange, the artist can engage in modes of self-inquiry, which the artist perhaps had not even considered possible or at the very least may have dismissed such self-reflections as being unnecessary to the development of their art practice.

  • In my experience, however, the artist would ultimately find such interactions with a critic to be an enriching experience. [Refer to the section “Artist’s Feedback” provided at the end of the write up.]


  • Archana, Mon, 18 Dec, 2017 (one of the questions from earlier on in the project)

 You have worked with various materials: brick, stone/marble, iron (steel), bronze, clay and others perhaps. To my question as to which of these materials are your preferred materials and the reasons for the preference you had responded by saying you give equal importance to all of these materials, except perhaps marble since you have worked extensively in marble.

  • Madan Lal responds

*(Below is a Google translation of the artist’s original text in Hindi with minor amendments made by me for clarity of expression.)

 “Art is life that takes the form of an art work which is articulated through various materials. The material is a body into which life enters as a soul and this is not the importance of the material itself, but how the soul resides within that material, the whole meaning of a work connects to that soul. The quality of the material can be soft like soil, smooth like marble, rough and abrasive like stone, cold and hot like iron, shiny like brass, and runny like water. There are different kinds of materials. The artist gives birth to his art in these materials from time to time according to the needs of his artistic expression. That is why I believe that material is just a material for me, but its inherent qualities energize my art, give it longevity, make it eternal, which lives continuously over time.Madan Lal

[Note on the flow of exchanges with reference to the above:  Madan Lal’s answers are at times tangential , perhaps due to their spontaneous and heart-felt nature. The artist, however, contributes positively to the discussion and his answers shed light on his relationship with the materials he uses and the forms he creates. ]

  • Archana on Madan Lal’s use of bricks as an art material

I would like to take up your brick works for discussion. I am especially curious as to what sort of forms you are able to create using bricks. Bricks have their limitation in terms of form and size and they are man-made products used almost entirely in the construction industry. 

The texture and the brittle nature of the composition of bricks and the material used to create them, followed by the baking process, seems to be totally at variance with the forms you create from marble, which are sensuous, smooth, clean, and free-flowing. 

Brick as a material is both hard and fragile, crumbling and disintegrating when pressure is applied, and poses special challenges for an artist.

When and how did you come upon the idea of using bricks in your work? And could you take me through your journey of brick works?

Also, I’d like to see images of your brick works with the dates, dimensions of the works, and places where you made them.

Disclaimer: In the excerpts, some of Madan Lal’s responses are in Hindi, which have been translated into English. His responses in English have been edited to make the text homogeneous in expression.

  • Madan Lal responds with a poetic description of the qualities of bricks, which is followed by a chronology of his brick works, with narrations by the artist on the processes and concepts of his works from each period. Quoted below is the artist’s original statement in Hindi.

 “Eent ke murtishilp mein vyaapt vishamta, khurdurapan, saadgi, arthavyavastha, tapasya, vinamrata, antarangata, prakrutik vastuon aur prkriyaon ki sundarata shamil hai aur yehi sabhi soundarya ke gun hai” Madan Lal

*Note: Below is a google translation of the above statement in Hindi by the artist on bricks, which will be referred to at various places below in the context of discussing specific works.

 A brick sculpture has coarseness, simplicity, economy, austerity, humility, intimacy – encompassing the beauty of natural objects and processes, which are the attributes of all beautyMadan Lal

  • Chronology of the Brick Works 1979 to 2021

Artist’s Narration on his first brick works – 1979 Baroda (parts of the text not in inverted commas are edited versions of the artist’s statements)

 I worked with bricks for the first time when I came to Baroda in 1978 after graduating from Banaras Hindu University. I had to start a new life in Baroda due to the “death of my beloved guru Ram Chhatpar.”

          “I was worried how I could live and work in a city like Baroda.”  “I had to prepare/ create new sculptures for my one man show in New Delhi in the coming month of April 1979

          “My financial condition was very bad.” 

           “Just before coming (to) Baroda, I had an interesting experience which changed my “thought” regarding the choice of material. In Banaras, one day I was going with some of my senior friends to the fine arts faculty’s canteen. On the way, I saw a lot of bricks lying on the roadside and I asked Sumita Chakrawarty…” ” Didi, can I do sculptures in bricks?” She answered, “Yes, why not?” The reply was (God-gifted).                   

 In January 1979, I joined the department of Sculpture at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda as a non-collegiate student.

           “I was in a great hurry to begin my new works due to the show. Within a week I had collected many “sized – unsized” bricks from the pathway from the faculty premises.” “So many raw, some of them unshaped and different”….  “After the collection, I requested Krishna Chhatpar Sir for carving tools etc;”

                “A new question arose as to what to carve in bricks? I had not much time to wait for ideas or inspiration – then I looked at my last works (bronzes) where I had made ‘Reclining Figures’”… “and I created (a) sculpture in brick ”.. “a reclining figure of a woman, very simple, suggestive and impressive. ”

                “What will be (the) second, third, and more? Then I arranged (a) few in groups of 2, 3, and 4, 5 or more – vertical, horizontal, standing and lying on the ground.” “At the same time, I got many kinds of very simple shape(s) like figure(s), leaf, bud, flower almost very abstract.”  “Finally, in 2-3 months I made 9 sculptures in brick. The experience was a wonder for me and I realized that art is only in you not any other place. ”

                  “The first experience in Baroda with students and with teachers too, were not much pleasant, maybe I guessed that I was not able to interact and impress them intellectually. ”

              “In this regard, I hesitate (d) to (approach) and show my works to them. Anyhow everywhere some fortunate (event happens) in your life,” “I found encouragement” from Nasreen Mohamedi “always during my stay in Baroda.”

Few Images of brick works made in Baroda 1979

Experiments in Bricks – 1989 Baroda
Reclining Figure – 1979 Baroda
  • Critical Appraisal of the Baroda works – Archana

 Madan Lal’s first attempts at using bricks to make sculptures cannot be considered as particularly innovative in their form and artistic expression. However, the artistic value of a work need not be judged based on the level of creativity or artistic skill but on factors such as “problem solving” and in the timely production of artworks within the deadline of a project.

Also, Madan Lal was able to find a solution to his lack of financial resources to create works for an impending exhibition by picking up a material that cost nothing and which was readily available on the roadside.

Another point that the artist made elsewhere in the exchanges was that these brick works solved the problem of costs further by him doing away with the use of pedestals to display the works in the exhibition.

These first bricks works of Madan Lal’s can be best described using the term “Vishamta,” taken from the artist’s own description of the qualities of bricks. The synonyms of the word are: irregular, coarse, asymmetrical, a separation or gap, a contrast between things etc. The last few synonyms “gap, separation, contrast” can be understood to mean a gap between what is expected of the artwork and what is actually delivered.

It could also refer to the artist’s feeling of a disconnect with Baroda, which he saw as an elite institution. This was in the early days of his Baroda experience.

Madan Lal, uses another term “khurdurapan” which aptly describes the rough and unpolished quality of his first brick works made from bricks manufactured in India for building purposes.

There is one other aspect to how the artist approaches his art practice. He uses the term “God-Gifted.” The belief in providence/divine intervention is something that most contemporary artists – who have found professional success that is out of the ordinary – almost never refer to.

  • Madan Lal responds

Artist’s Narration – 1987 Tokyo

 The next time I did Brick sculptures was in Tokyo at Tama Art University. I think you had seen the show at Setagaya Art Museum in Tokyo in 1987 with Rajeev Lochan’s paintings. The response to these works gave me recognition as an artist in Japan, and I received many offers for shows from Japanese galleries. I was awarded the Semi Grand Prize for the works. This sort of recognition took me to new heights in my artistic pursuits. I carved 225 bricks in 2 months and made 5 sculptural compositions. I worked around 8-10 hours every day. I consider these works to be original in design; the chosen forms are unique but rooted in our native Indian tradition.

These works started off as experiments using bricks but soon developed into planned, organized works that are complex in design and concept.

Untitled – Brick installation 1989 Tokyo, Japan
Untitled- brick installation, 1989 Tokyo, Japan
  • Critical Appraisal of the Tokyo works – Archana

Madan Lal’s next set of brick works done in Tokyo in 1987 are a contrast to his first set of brick works made in Baroda. It is these works made in Tokyo using a superior quality of bricks and having had time to develop his artistic ideas and skills in using bricks and other materials in sculpture that advanced Madan Lal’s career as a sculptor, granting him recognition in his profession that was life changing. He has not looked back since his first successes in Japan.

He came into his own with his Tokyo works. The works have qualities of innovation, depth of artistic expression, beauty and aesthetics, and a new belief in himself as an artist of repute. He demonstrates through these works that he can think on a grand scale and has the courage to take risks and come out on top.

In these works he brought out forms hidden within the rectangular block of a brick not normally envisioned by most – perfectly formed spheres as if moulded using wet clay, the spheres cut neatly into halves; bricks sculpted with jagged edges or serrations like that of a saw, an object you expect would be made out of metal; or the splintered edges of a piece of wood snapped by force – but not brick.       

  • Madan Lal responds

Artist’s Narration – 2003 Lucknow  – a site specific work  titled “River”                                                      

In 2003, I was invited by the Faculty of Fine Arts, Lucknow University, for a lecture and demonstration on Installation Art. I created a site-specific installation with bricks near the Gomati River that flows by the university campus. I used about 3000 bricks to create the work. “The ‘River’ first comes in my compositions in 1997.”

The “River” is 25 x 3 x 2 Ft., long and follows the curves of the flow of a river with steps.  Lucknow 2003

River – 2003 Lucknow – work in progress
River – Site-specific work near the Gomati River – 2003 Lucknow
  • Critical Appraisal of the 2003 Lucknow work titled “River” – Archana

The Lucknow work titled “River” came 16 years later, although he had worked with the concept of the river in 1997. The Lucknow work has the characteristic beauty of most of Madan Lal’s works. The “River” is not so much a work of sculpture but a site-specific mini-work of architecture using bricks as bricks in their original form.

Once again, I would use one of Madan Lal’s own terms in Hindi “arthavyavastha” and the various synonyms of the term in English – economy, processes of production, distribution, trade, social structures etc., to describe the “River.”

The “River” 2003, gives artistic expression to the meandering form of the flow of a river with banks on either side with steps and varying levels of structure in the horizontal form of the work.

All major civilizations grew and flourished in the vicinity of a flowing body of water. In making the work (the “River”) the artist had to enlist the help and assistance of casual workers and tradespeople, which is a positive contribution to society in the name of art.

  • Madan Lal responds

Artist’s Narration – 2005 Taipei – with a description on the importance of “Well” as a subject in his art

 Soon I had a chance to participate in the ‘Third Asia Pacific Arts Forum- Disguise & Identity’ at the Taipei National University of Fine Arts, Taiwan.

I used bricks to create a circular wall with a brick floor to create a “Well” of 4 meters in diameter. The brick floor followed a design pattern of concentric circles with a few bricks carved in abstract flower forms placed upright on the floor at strategic places. The brick wall of the well and the floor were held together and sealed with mortar so as to hold water.

As a child, I remember watching a well being dug near my village. I was surprised and fascinated to see a sudden appearance of water after the well had been dug to a certain depth. Many questions came to my mind: why does the water level in the well not decrease or why doesn’t the well start overflowing with water?

Watching my shadow in the well and throwing pebbles into the still water and listening to the gentle ‘plop’ sound and an echo that soon followed and observing the ripples being created gave me tremendous joy.

 In time, I also noticed that the well made of bricks and cement developed some fissures and after a few years a Peepal tree and saplings of other trees took root within the structure of the walls of the well.

Gradually there grew branches and leaves that covered the inside of the well, their ever changing forms being reflected in the water of the well. Nature took over technology and created unexpected imagery that can be seen in my work in different forms and materials and at different stages of my artistic development.

Well – 2005 Taipei, Taiwan
  • Critical Appraisal of the Taiwan work – Archana

The Taipei “Well” of 2005 is again a site-specific work like the work “River,” more in the realm of public works, as in the case of a well built for communal use, rather than a work of sculpture. (In any case, the work in its totality is not intended to be a work of sculpture , still….). The small, almost unnoticeable forms of buds and flowers placed strategically on the floor of the well are perhaps the actual artworks, these forms of nature (replete in the artist’s works) made the Well their home – harking back to his memory of the well built in the village that he witnessed as a child.

The “Well” is impressive as a structure and is visually engaging.

  • Below are two murals that were not discussed in the exchanges

Varanasi: Bricks 2018 – A mural for the exterior wall of Ram Chhatpar Shilp Nyas, Varanasi,  India

Mural 2018 Ram Chattpar Shilp Nyas, Varanasi
  • Critical Appraisal of the 2018 Varanasi brick mural – Archana

In the Varanasi mural “Bricks 2018” above each individual brick may be seen as an artwork that mimics everyday bricks used for industrial purposes. By embossing his name in the dip within the brick (the technical term for the dip is “frog” ) the artist is making a daring attempt at appropriation of a building material that has a history of thousands of years and which has been universally used by peoples of ancient civilizations onwards until the present day.

In the mural, the placement of the bricks is in the form of a mandala, which in itself is not an original idea. However, the fact that the bricks are of different sizes and thicknesses, introduces an element of surprise – since the expectation is that bricks being a mass produced product would be of the same size – lending the composition a quiet, subtle element of artistic innovation.

Varanasi: Bricks Blossoms 2021 – a mural for the exterior wall of Ram Chhatpar Shilp Nyas, Varanasi, India

Brick Blossoms – 2021 Ram Chattpar Shilp Nyas, Varanasi
  • Critical appraisal of the Varanasi mural Brick Blossoms 2021 – Archana

The above work of 2021, titled “Brick Blossoms,” a mural is composed of individually carved bricks, the carved forms are unique to each brick – no repetition. The arrangement is again reminiscent of a mandala, with an ever so slight asymmetry that can be described using just one word “beautiful.”

In the mural, the sculpted bricks gradually diminish in size as they extend outwards in larger circles from their central point. The center of the brick composition contains just two bricks as if there is an inherent duality within what is seen from afar as a unified whole in its never ending circularity.

The Dvaita, is the Advaita, but in fact it is Ramanuja’s Vishishtadvaita that we can see in the mural. (This is a philosophical construct of the Vedanta school of thought in Hinduism.)

The attention to detail, the complex calculations required to show the gradual decrease in the sizes of the bricks as they spread outwards in the composition are aspects of the mural that a viewer may not immediately grasp at first sight.

The Varanasi mural “Brick Blossoms” is best described in the artist’s own words. I would use some of the other terms from his statement on bricks in Hindi quoted above where, in addition to vishamta”and khurdurapan he uses the terms: “saadgi,” “tapasya,” “vinamrata,” “antarangata,” “prakrutik vastuon aur prakriyaon ki sundarata,” – i.e. simplicity, dedication, humility, intimacy, encompassing the beauty of natural objects and processes, respectively.”

  • Feedback from Madan Lal Gupta on the Project – extracts

*I am learning and seeing many things in my art and life through your perception of my work…which is deep and insightful”

*“..through these exchanges I am able to look at my life and my philosophy of art from various angles and I have come to realize that life and art are one and the same….”

*“….I have come to understand the value of proper documentation of art and the necessity to create a visual chronology of my work for future reference so the many interrelationships in my art become evident…..I realized this when you brought this aspect of art practice to my notice.. in our exchanges” 

* ….these interactions guide me forward in my art and craft creations..”

Archana Hebbar Colquhoun

Autumn Tree of Pleasure – Japan/Archana Hebbar Colquhoun

  • The Tree has a Symbolism that is Timeless and Universal in its Origins. The Expressions are limitless and found in all cultures and religions.

The Bhagawad Gita (15.1)

Lord Krishna describes the divine Ashvattha tree, as that whose roots grow upwards and the branches of which extend downwards; its leaves are the sacred knowledge of the Vedas; the knower of this tree has attained the knowledge of the Vedas.

Carl Gustav Jung

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”

The above two quotes, to me, point to the limitless ways in which the symbolism of a tree can be expressed.

I would like to place my painting “Autumn Tree of Pleasure” within the context of the extensive symbolism that the Tree has generated in our imagination.

In this essay, I would like to talk about the visual devices I used in the painting of the autumn tree to depict time, movement, and the part that memory plays in the creation of an artwork. I painted the ‘autumn tree’ before I moved back to India, at the turn of the century.

  • Materials used in the painting

The autumn tree is painted on an imperial size card sheet with charcoal, pastels, acrylic paints, and a bit of turmeric for the yellow – or is the yellow pigment not turmeric?

The quality and range of paper types, including the sizes and formats of cut and rolled paper that I encountered in Japan filled me with such joy and amazement that I switched from sculpture and installation art to painting, for a time.

  • The Tree and the Painting

In the painting, I wanted to show – most of all – the movement of falling leaves.

Fall is another name for autumn.

A tree shedding its autumnal leaves, the shade of kumkum red – deep, rich, dense, and tactile – is an annual spectacle of nature that is witnessed only in some parts of the world, which have a temperate climate.

  • My relationship with the tree

Coming from the tropics i.e. southern India, I found the concept of the four seasons not just novel but in some respects alien.

After the first few years of living in Japan, I began to form my own, personal relationship with each of the four seasons that came and went in a regular cycle, without exception, every year.

Summer is perhaps the least favourite season for most people in Japan and it was the same for me.

Of the other three seasons – the soft, gentle spring, preceded by a cold, crisp, snowy winter, and the third the autumn with the grandeur of its colours and dazzling hues – is my most inspirational.

  • Picking a singular iconic image of a tree and blotting out the surrounding panoramic stretch

The subject of the painting, The Autumn Tree of Pleasure, which I painted after having lived through several Japanese autumns, harked back to an image (of a painting of an autumn tree) that was already present in my mind as a vivid and abiding memory, for more than a decade, before I visited Japan and made the country my second home.

I am referring here to the well-known Indian miniature painting titled “Squirrels in a Chinar Tree” by the master painter Abu’l-Hasan (see NOTE below) who worked in the Mughal emperor, Jahangir’s atelier in the seventeenth century. The Chinar tree grows in the valleys of Kashmir and is considered to be a symbol of Kashmir’s rich, cultural and environmental heritage.

I was introduced to this painting in my art history classes in Baroda. The shape of the leaves of the Chinar tree, the flame-red hue of many of them (alongside the green leaves) depicted in the Mughal miniature painting, I found puzzling and fascinating. This was a tree in the early stages of an autumnal metamorphosis. Such a tree, where leaves seemed to take the place of flowers because of their distinctive colours, I had never seen in southern India.

[NOTE:  The work is sometimes attributed to the artist Mansur or considered to be a collaborative work by the two artists. In any case, works of art not only in India but also in Europe were the result of collective work by trainee artists and artisans who worked under the auspices of a single master to whom then the work of art would be attributed. The painting is in the collection of a museum outside India as are a large number of other masterpieces of Indian art. A simple Internet search will disclose all necessary information on the painting. Due to copyright restrictions I have not included an image of the painting, which is titled in most cases “Squirrels in a Plane Tree.”]

  • The Chinar tree and my painting

The Chinar tree belongs to the family of Plane trees and resembles the Japanese maple tree. It is considered to be an endangered species going by the rapidly decreasing numbers of the tree in Kashmir. One of the features of the Chinar tree is its deep and extensive root growth that covers a ground area larger than the spread of its tree top. The bifurcation of the tree trunk into roots is visible just above the ground level where the tree rises in its magnificence.

The roots of a Chinar tree need to breathe and be able to draw nutrients and generous amounts of water from the surrounding soil for its survival, healthy growth, and longevity. When road construction and building works are carried out close to and right above the ground area where the roots of the Chinar tree lie the death of the tree from suffocation and starvation soon follows.  

  • A Pictorial Analysis of the painting “An Autumn Tree of Pleasure” through Q & A

Q1. What sort of a tree is the Autumn Tree of Pleasure, is it a Chinar tree?

A1. The tree in the painting is a generic, deciduous tree that sheds its leaves in the autumn but before it starts to bare its branches, a performance takes place whereby the green leaves turn into a golden yellow followed by a deep orange, and/or finally a blood-red hue.

Q2. How did this painting come about?

A2. I can best answer the question in the form of a sequence diagram using words and symbols as follows:

a memory + a life experience a memory retrieval through synchronic activation within the brain a motivation to create = the final art work

Note: It is a mystery as to why only certain memories and or life experiences lead to the production of an artwork, especially when the artwork is purely self-motivated and is not a work that is commissioned by a patron.

Q3. How is movement depicted in the painting? What pictorial devices do you employ to show movement in a static, two-dimensional representation of an image?

A3.  The following four elements are used to depict movement in the painting.

  • Wind
  • Shifting axis in the composition
  • Suggestion of Time through placement of pictorial elements on the picture surface
  • Change in pigmentation

1. Wind creates movement which in turn disturbs the leaves, dislodging them from the branches, and speeds up the process of the falling of the leaves.

2. Diagonal lines in a composition can also be used to show movement. In the painting the branches of the tree are drawn in sweeping, rightward curves the arcs pointing downwards.

3. Time represents movement. The passing of time is inferred from the position of the leaves painted as individual elements in a random pattern at varying levels within the painting, which shows the descent of the leaves to the ground at different times.

4. Change in pigment can also indicate the passing of time. The leaves on the ground are painted dark red the colour of dried blood and it can be understood that the leaves have been on the ground for some time, in contrast to the brighter red of the leaves that are shown airborne.

The painting, Autumn Tree of Pleasure, to me represents the tragic history of Kashmir. The region was considered a paradise on earth, depicted as such in countless paintings and in the romantic song sequences of Indian movies till just a few decades ago.

As a visual artist, I have so far rarely repeated an artistic idea or a form, unless I am in the process of exploring the various facets and permutational possibilities of the idea. Use of different materials comes into play when I want to express an idea through different media – paintings, sculptures, art installations etc.

A variation on the autumn tree is a painting which I made using only the red viscous liquid that comes in a tiny tube with a dipper for painting a bindi – a red dot or an elongated line on the forehead, which is commonly used in India by women as a chief element of facial makeup.

I sometimes refer to the painting as A Red Tree, which I painted very soon after painting The Autumn Tree of Pleasure.

Photo Credit: Arun Visweswaran

The X factor of Installation Art/Archana Hebbar Colquhoun

Installation Art

I would like to quote from the Tate glossary of art terms a definition of Installation Art.

“Mixed-media constructions or assemblages usually designed for a specific place and for a temporary period of time”

This definition is broad, succinct and most suitably describes many of my installation works. One example is the Altar, an installation work in which I bring together paintings, sculptural works in wood and brass, bricks, and a temple bell that I displayed at a gallery in New Delhi, as a single work.

However, the presentation features of an art installation allow an artist to mix and match artworks and objects and present what might be a hybrid collection of works as one homogenous whole. The arrangement and display of the works and objects are designed by the artist (not by a curator) and the completed assemblage would result in a new, composite work – an art installation bearing the name of the artist as its creator.

Installation art throws up rich and exciting possibilities for artistic expression.  

I would like to present a descriptive analysis of the installation work titled Altar. The installation consists of four discrete components: the centrepiece; the pedestal; the paintings; and a temple bell.

The Centrepiece – a Torii gateway with Obstacles

The main component of the installation, the centrepiece, is a Torii gateway with chained objects suspended from the top-centre of the gateway; the objects acting as an obstacle to entry.

The main advantage of installation art is that an artist can create multiple works of “installation” using the same set of (art) objects by assembling them in different compositions and playing around with the placements of the objects. The possibilities for innovation are virtually limitless. The centrepiece of the present installation consists of four detachable pieces: the Torii gateway and three small brass sculptures, connected by chains – acting as an obstacle.

The obstacle consists of one main part – a Z-shaped form and an auxiliary part – two forms resting on the base of the Torii gateway connected on either side by a chain to the suspended Z-shaped form. The two forms (not clearly seen in the featured photograph) are sculptural expressions of a slipper and a footprint in 3D form. The three forms (of a hand-held size) are in fact three independent sculptural works, which can be displayed individually or in combination with other related works.

[Note: I made a series of small sculptural works, cast in brass, all of which can be connected to one or more works, interchangeably, using chains. A discussion about these works would form the subject of a separate article.]

The Pedestal

The centrepiece, the Torii gateway, rests on a dry wall of bricks, within which is a niche acting as the sanctum sanctorum of a temple with an architectural feature of a step leading into the small, vertical hollow in the wall.

 Sculptural works, unless very large, are always placed on a pedestal in a gallery setting. The use of a brick construction instead of a wooden pedestal box to display the Torii sculpture opens up the meaning of the work (consisting of the Torii and the brick wall) since the pedestal becomes a part of the work. The brick wall, on which the Torii gateway is placed, can be seen as depicting sacred architecture that has a sculptural component, the Torii. If the Torii was placed on a wooden display pedestal instead of a brick wall it would be seen as a (simple*) work of sculpture.

The brick wall plays a transformative role in terms of meaning and construction within the installation.

* I use the term “simple” not as a qualitative description of the art of sculpture but as a depth of vision employed in reading a work of art.

[Note: The bricks used in this installation are common burnt clay bricks made and used in India for constructing houses and other small buildings. The bricks are backing bricks (as opposed to facing bricks – used as a veneer) and they require rendering with mortar to hold them in place and need plastering once a wall is built.

The dry brick wall on which the centrepiece of the present installation rests can easily be taken down without damaging the bricks and the bricks put to use for which they were made originally.  The bricks in the dry wall in the installation do not sit flush on and against each other as no mortar is used to build the wall.

Paintings of Torii gateways with Obstacles

I explored further the subject of the main (sculptural) component of the (Torii gateway) installation in paintings. The two paintings hanging on the wall, above the centrepiece, one to the left are from a series of paintings the idea for which came to me after I had done a body of Torii sculptural works. The paintings are of a slightly later date.

The main subject of the paintings is the two-part form of an “obstacle.” Although the form of the Torii no longer appears in the paintings the top edge of the painting is suggestive of the existence of a Torii gateway.

The paintings are self-explanatory, except that they are titled “Herbal Paintings”an entirely new category of works. As I continued to explore the theme of the “Torii with obstacles” in a 2D medium the principal focus of the works shifted to the pigments I chose to use in making the paintings. The subject matter of a Torii with obstacles that was the source of the paintings became incidental to the painted works, a mere vestige of an earlier idea.

The pigments used in the paintings are turmeric, kumkum, henna, and kaajal (organic eyeliner paste).

[Note: Turmeric and the red kumkum powder are indispensable to any ritual performed in a temple, and are considered sacred.]

A Bronze Temple Bell

The presence of the temple bell in the installation not only points to another series of works titled “Sound Sculptures” but also transforms the meaning of the installation, just as the brick wall does.

Many of the small sculptural works described earlier in the essay (the obstacles in the Torii) are in fact examples of sound sculptures. When the original clay or plaster forms of the sculptural works were cast in brass I asked the artisan to place a tiny stone inside the hollow of the brass works so as to create a sound (as does a child’s rattle) when the object is picked up by a viewer for closer inspection.

The fact that these brass works incorporate the element of sound is not evident unless a viewer is already familiar with the works. The bell acts as a connecting thread to the sound element hidden in the brass sculptures.

The (hybrid) collection of works featured in the installation present a meaning that is concentric.

The temple bell with its definitive meaning provides a trajectory through which the viewer comes to see the installation as one that represents sacred space.

The temple bell and the bricks are two components of the installation that are obviously not made by me. This is one advantage of installation art where works and objects not made by the artist can be presented in a 3D assemblage along with other works without the artist being accused of misappropriation.

There is no possibility of doubt in the viewer’s mind as to the origin and identity of the temple bell and the utilitarian bricks, both of which are integral to the installation.


The works and objects of one installation can be presented in a different combination in another installation and context. In one installation the same set of objects can be displayed in a grouping that is intended to convey one primary meaning but when presented in a different combination (irrespective of the display space) the installation could express a statement that could not be read from a construction of an earlier installation, which consisted of the exact same set of objects.

For example, if the temple bell was not hung above the centrepiece but placed on the floor, upright or on its side, it would change the meaning of the work, almost entirely.

A number of other issues to be discussed and clarified with respect to this installation arise in my mind, although the essay has now come to its end.

No writing on an artwork can and will be conclusive.

Torii gateways and shadows/Archana Hebbar Colquhoun

Depicting the ephemeral shadow through three-dimensional form – Torii sculptures and Installations

Innovations in visual language that surfaced from my subconscious, which I discuss in this write-up relate to the play of light and shadows. In two-dimensional artworks, we can see how shadows are painted and how they form an integral part of the composition of the work. Pigments are used to delineate the space occupied by the shadow and the presence of the shadow in an artwork is invested with special meaning; namely, the dark shadow self lurking within and around an entity.

I was curious to find newer methods to depict a shadow using three dimensional form, by placing objects that have formal resemblance to the main object in the work in arrangements that are both playful as well as carefully considered so as to act as a novel visual device.

Below are two works of Torii installations in which I have tried to demonstrate alternative ways of depicting shadows.

Torii with a line of bricks constituting a shadow

When in the presence of light each solid object throws out a shadow.
The shadow is just a visual echo of the object and represents only the outer boundary of the form of the object. Within the flat, linear shape of the shadow no formal details are seen of the actual object.

The shadow is errant by its very nature. Presenting an object as a simple outline the shadow entirely erases the object’s rich surface content and replaces the textures of the object by the texture of the ground on which the shadow falls.

Torii sculpture displayed in a tent with a framed drawing acting as a shadow of the Torii sculpture

In each of the two works of the Torii gateway (shown above) the capricious shadow is embodied in material form. In one work the shadow is represented as a line of bricks imitating the form of the Torii displayed on a dry wall of bricks and in the other work (displayed inside a tent) the shadow is a framed drawing of a Torii lying flat on the floor, face up, at the foot of the tori sculpture. The shadows of the tori gateways in both works deviate from the form of the actual art object.

A shadow is an illusion with a life form of its own.

Social Distancing or Physical Distancing? / Archana Hebbar Colquhoun

                                                   a sculptural representation

Seated Man
Seated Man

Covid-19 and Social Distancing

The current global coronavirus pandemic leading to COVID-19 shows no signs of dying a natural death; far from it, we are nowhere near finding a solution to arresting the spread of the virus.  The virus appeared mysteriously and suddenly, infected some, multiplied rapidly, hitch-hiked by various means and entered all parts of the world – sparing no region. It underwent numerous mutations during its journey around Planet Earth and half a year later still stays firmly away from the grasp of human comprehension.

This uncontrolled, worldwide pandemic has completely transformed our lives and we have come up with one rather simple behavioral method and the only known effective one so far to cope with this situation. The world’s lingua franca has given it the name “Social Distancing.” The English language is highly adaptive. But the language is also very adept at coining specious terms. These terms are then taken up unquestioningly by anyone speaking any language, anywhere in the world.

I would like to discuss, using one of my sculptural works, the connotative meanings of the term “Social Distancing.” As a more suitable term to use in the COVID-19 context, I would suggest the term “Physical Distancing.

A Sculptural representation

The subject of this article is a sculpture of a seated man. It is the third in the series of five sculptures that I made in Tokyo, in the late 80s. These sculptures are based on specific people I saw on the streets of “Calcutta,” in the early to mid-80s. I did not and could not strike up a conversation with any of them. Perhaps I did not have the strength of spirit to connect with them through verbal communication. I had my own problems and I felt just as helpless as they did or perhaps they did not even feel the same sort of disempowerment I felt. They were, for all I know, stronger in spirit than most and had the mental strength to accept their condition and live a functional life with a reasonable level of happiness and fulfillment.

The reason for the absence of an interaction with any of the individuals I saw and passed by on the streets of Calcutta that year in the early to mid-80s was revealed to me gradually, over the years. This happened through certain specific experiences I had with people, belonging to different groups, in various countries. These experiences were, what I would call, mundane and of little import when taken from the point of view of a day to day existence. To me, however, they were eye openers. These experiences signified to me the true meaning of the currently much bandied about term “Social Distancing.”

I posted a write-up about my second sculpture in the series, crawling man, titled “The World on its Hands and Knees,” since the person the sculpture was modeled on represented to me the condition that all of us are in now – our lives ruthlessly controlled by a global pandemic caused by a bio-chemical entity, the coronavirus, that exists in that nebulous state between living and nonliving.

The fear of COVID-19 is real, palpable, and terrifying because we have no understanding of the workings of the coronavirus. A term with a very specific meaning has been coined to describe the physical distance each of us needs to maintain with everyone except for the few people with whom we share a living space, excluding even your blood relatives if they happen to live in separate accommodation.

This physical distancing is termed “Social Distancing.”

Social Distancing vs Physical Distancing

“Social Distancing” is entirely erroneous as a term to describe the sort of distancing we need to maintain between each other during this pandemic. The ‘distancing’ is necessary so as to not catch the virus from people with whom interaction is unavoidable, termed essential workers, and spreading the virus to other individuals.

Social Distancing as a practice is nothing new; it has always existed in all societies, in one form or another. It is implemented and controlled by a small minority of agents of power, be they the ruling elite, the strong amongst the weak etc.  Using the term “Social Distancing” in the present situation to describe a prescriptive behavioral form of maintaining physical distance to avoid spreading of COVID-19 that applies to all, irrespective of their social standing, performs the task of validating, insidiously, the deep social divide, wide-spread all over the world. The term gives credence to the institutionally managed segregation of communities that disempowers large groups of people based on their color, ethnicity, economic standing, gender, etc., and people with physical disabilities. These groups of people live a socially distanced life. I have not included other groups or even people with disabilities that are not to do with the visible physical body, in this discussion.

Persons with physical disabilities

Among the many disempowered groups of people, such as those listed above and others, it is the group of people with physical disabilities that are uniquely placed as the ones whose lives are more severely affected by social isolation and the resulting social distancing.  A person with physical disabilities is a single individual, often experiencing a sense of separation even within their own family. Although living a socially distanced life like many other groups of people, a person with a physical disability is alone in their disability as each form of disability is different from another. The extent and nature of the disability depends on individual factors and the person with a disability does not belong to a clearly identifiable collective.

Examples of a ‘collective’ would be an ethno-racial social group or a community of economically deprived families, living in ghettoized, marginalized conditions. Accordingly, a person with disabilities lacks the emotional support system that individuals belonging to other disempowered groups with shared problems and a common identity have.

 The social and emotional isolation of people with a physical disability may be the result of congenital factors, of deliberate acts of cruelty, accidents, and even more shockingly and tragically due to poorly understood medical treatments. These treatments are administered hastily, not having been properly verified but widely hailed as effective, and any side-effects resulting from the treatment, which may be severe and irreversible are identified only when the damage is already done.

As mentioned earlier, physical disabilities can include a whole range of conditions, including ones that are not readily visible to others or those that entirely escape the notice of people who are strangers to the person with a disability.

A physical disability of a particular kind and why it became the subject of my sculptures

The form of physical disability I chose to highlight through the set of five sculptures belong to the one category of people (four of the sculptures referring to actual individuals I saw), who are either born with or developed later in life anomalies (in medical terms a “deformity”) in their bodily structure. Their limbs, extremities, and craniofacial features affect how they are viewed by others and the bodily movement and functionalities of the people in this category are restricted to various degrees. Often, the stark visual nature of their physical characteristics, entirely unique to each individual and the disabilities being specifically their own, marks them apart from others. They are denied a sense of belonging to a community. Inarguably, the social and emotional isolation that the people in this group experience compounds their day to day difficulties and increases their dependency on others. The subject was compelling and I was and still am deeply affected by the life situation of people with disabilities who have readily visible “malformations” of the body.

Before I talk about my sculpture, seated man, and the form and content of the work, I would like to make clear my rationale and impetus behind selecting, as subjects of my artwork, people with physical characteristics that restrict their mobility and whose body structure does not conform to expected norms. If the motivation for doing the set of sculptures is not already evident from the foregoing discussion, I would like to stress that by doing these works I want to bring to light the pain and suffering of these individuals, which is singularly their own.

These set of sculptures may be deemed voyeuristic, distasteful, and even lacking in basic human sensitivity and compassion on the part of the artist.  This is one reading of the work, and from the point of view of the artist, that is me, the reading reflects the reader’s/viewer’s own point of view, which does not allow them to extend their understanding of what an art work stands for, the compelling motivations of the artist for doing works of this kind, and the complex web of meanings the artwork holds. These meanings of the artworks constantly change and come to light depending on the context in which they are presented and the nature of the audience. There may be no specific target audience in the mind of the artist when a work is created, unless the work is commissioned by a specific patron with clear-cut requirements. My set of works are entirely self-motivated and created with no specific audience in mind.

It is my conjecture that the seated man, who in all probability was homeless, had a congenital condition that caused the shortening of his arms but evidently with strong musculature in the upper and forearms, both structurally relocated and joined in such a way as to provide for an elbow function. The formation of the arms had a certain degree of symmetry, in that the arms had the same proportion and structurally related to the rest of the body in a similar manner.

The Sculpture of a seated man

Middle Image

A seated man, homeless perhaps, his posture is almost that of a yogi. His torso is upright and handsome. He sits with his legs folded under in the yoga pose of Vajrasana, holding a stick in one hand for support. His arms are strong, although shortened. They are connected securely to his shoulders in a “standard” anatomical position. His head is turned sideways to view something that he caught sight of from the corner of his eyes. He used his very own form of transport, a little trolley, which I edited out from the sculpture. This I did so as to give prominence to the figure of the man who bore himself with dignity to the extent he could, given his circumstances. The trolley would have been a distraction and would have drawn attention to his disability.

Whatever innate dignity his physical demeanor may have presented, he was still an outcast – homeless, living on the streets, and displaying those physical features that the vast majority of people could not relate to and from whom they maintained a clear social distance.

The social distancing of people such as the seated man has no relation to the “Social Distancing” prescribed by the governments of all countries for tackling COVID-19. What is needed in the present circumstances is “Physical Distancing.”

If the indignity of a subtle form of social distancing was not enough, the seated man spending most of his time on the pavement had people walking past him, occasionally tossing a few coins in his bowl, who practiced a more blatant form of “physical distancing;” whereby, when they passed him on the street, they kept a distance that was more than necessary. This they did to make certain that they avoided contact with him. They walked past him by making a wide arc of a semi-circular curve using a quick motion to go past him, in the shortest possible time.

Practicing social distancing in relation to people isolated from the mainstream of society existed way before COVID-19 gripped our lives.

Displaying the work in an art gallery

Last Image

In order to express the combined qualities of dignity and social isolation of the seated man, the figure was placed directly on the floor of the gallery on the first day of the show, and from the second day of the show until the closing of the show the figure was placed on a pedestal, which not only isolated him but also provided him with an elevating platform, giving him the dignity he deserves.