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Treasured Memories

Treasured Memories: Reliving History and Fables in the Art of Debosmita Samanta and Sonali Laha

Kalakriti Art gallery presents two women artists — Debosmita Samanta and Sonali Laha who explore visual transmutations of memory, identity, history and experience through their artistic practice.

Memory and our cultural background have a significant role in how we interpret places and also influence the meanings and values we attach to them. For centuries the ideas of memory and the duration of time have guided artists towards new ways of representation. The focus of this exhibition is the way in which art responds to past memories and experiences. In Debosmita’s and Sonali’s works the concepts of memory and imagination function as a compositional methodology, creative power, and a platform between the artists and their audience. Both of these women use nuance as well as a formal visual language to connect their histories and memories into a collective identity — a radical gesture in our current era of binary identity politics. Strategies of remembrance might refer to conscious acts, such as recording, selective recollection or revisiting the residual material, or even less deliberate and implicit processes that go beyond the mechanisms of perception, such as texture, trauma and sublimation. The two artists perceptively enough, express their personal subjects in distinctly dissimilar ways. While Debosmita’s recollections appear as landscapes and studio portraits having important personal meanings that have formed her world view; Sonali, on the other hand, uses her original method of narrative painting to make her subjects visible in an environment which serves as internal mirrors inviting us and our personal memories and imagination to complete the work. Sonali leans more towards the tangible aspects of everyday life, while Debosmita chooses a train of thought deciphering which requires inward looking of a different kind. Both, however insist on the importance of experience.

Debosmita Samanta

To contextualize Debosmita’s oeuvre - her works are visual metonymy for personal memories, love, mythology, family history, interpretation of self-psychology. She performs visual storytelling where she depicts a different story each time through her paintings. The images in her paintings serve as dual metaphors that are attuned to historical importance and documentation of daily life as well as interpretation of certain incidents or real-life stories. All her myriad portrait-like images are drawn from the deep reservoirs of experiential memory including psychological and emotional aspects of a woman’s life, her transitional identity and the state of a perplexed existence which both inform and inspire the thematic scheme in her works. In her recent suit of works she addresses the issue of absence with an all pervading sense of presence or existence - of a person or people even when they are not physically present. In these works we find the nature as the sole witness of various activities carried out by a a person or people which is then depicted metaphorically. Her landscapes are a conglomeration of the conscious and subconscious mind and the characters in it either appear benumbed or what seems like an indefinite state of suspension. For the artist and importantly for her audience it is to gaze upon not as simply aesthetic landscapes, but as visual ideograms that help us in looking at a fragile space between art and biography.

Sonali Laha

For Sonali Laha, the human body and mind are mnemonic zones interacting with each other during different situations and spaces, manifesting through her works. Through her art practice, she explores the journey of the human mind, body, and soul and how they react to each other in various situations and spaces. Her feelings and experiences always manifest through her work. As her works explore the psycho-social realm, most of the times we come across subjects of her paintings having absolutely still body postures. The frontal gaze of her subject helps her to have a direct one-on-one with her audience and sometimes even confront them about the concept of beauty and its representations in the society. Going through an organic process of image-making, Sonali works mostly in traditional tempera on wasli medium. For her, the surface of the painting is like skin, which absorbs all the colours deeper inside, giving it a brighter hue. This whole process is an essential ritual for her, that shapes her thoughts and ideas. As per the concept, Sonali also includes a variegated range of materials such as my fallen hair, silk, wood, fabrics, beads and such in her art practice. She draws her inspiration as much from self aesthetics, inner spirituality, and everyday life as much from traditional Indian image making traditions like tempera, miniature, and Kalighat paintings. In all of these borrowings and inspirations, her works emerge as frozen still moments of an otherwise chaotic and frenzied life which is now silent in expression. In the context of the exhibition the art works are conceived in a dynamic way where images, discourses, feelings and experiences are structured and communicated organically between the artists and the physical objects they made. A personal memory embodied in an art work often revokes past experiences, feelings, behaviours and sometimes history referring to people and events that still provoke emotions even today. It is through the senses that human body remembers or chooses to forget, since oblivion turns to be as vital as memory itself for the subject. We become what we are and give meaning to our life according to what our body chooses to remember, or forget. Deeply entrenched in the artists’ personal history, consciously or unconsciously, things seen, heard or learned have become a part of the process of creation in the final works of art. This exhibition explores this poetical and creative dimension of embodied memory, a memory which is felt and experienced rather than cognitively approached, in the context of contemporary Indian art. Through a series of paintings the artists approach and reinterpret individual and collective memory.

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