Analytical study of the artwork by Anupam Sud Essay

The art of printmaking, as we know it today, is an artistic method appreciated for its unique technical qualities and its immense vocabulary as a specialized field of fine art. Printmaking is the process with which a wide range of materials and diversity of techniques are associated, which offers the artist varied possibilities for experimentation. Anupam Sud was born in 1944 at Hoshiarpur in Punjab. She passed her Diploma in Fine Art from the College of Art, Delhi and an advanced course in printmaking from the Slade School of Art in London on a British Council scholarship.

She headed the printmaking department at the Delhi College of Art for several years. She has been a teacher and a mentor to many young artists of today. She is also known for her fine drawings and paintings. Her work breathes a unique freshness- with traces of sculptural contours in some and hints of warmth of oils in others. Though her work features both men and women and often in the nude, her sympathies are feminist and the oeuvre introspective and somewhat brooding or haunting, concerning itself with common human predicaments of ambiguity and hypocrisy.

As an educationist and founding member of the printmakers guild and subsequently the mini prints exhibition that she had curated which toured several Indian cities, she has been able to win for graphics a place within the folds of recognized art forms. Anupam works at her home-studio in village Mandi, isolated by verdure and green fields, several miles away from the churning of Delhi’s streets. When we compare the work of Anupam sud with the great printmaker of the past, like Albert Durer, Daumier, Kathe kollowitz who used print-making for its monochromatic power of statement, Anupam, on the contrary, uses its language of metaphor. Sud’s art consolidates her humanistic leanings over her feminist ones, reflecting upon the nature of humanity in all its forms.

She works, one might say, with a social and political consciousness that may not be radical, but affects a subtle intervention by speculation rather than statement. Her deep knowledge of past artistic traditions, of the cultural dynamics that prevail in the Indian context and topical events is the trigger that ignites her imagination. The sweet bitter taste of life that occurs in the wider world of everyday experience engages this artist. The themes of manipulation, the relationship of power to predicament, of powerlessness and temptation, human fallibility and trappings, the masked existence of urban people, the inertia of government structures, are some of the recurrent themes that engage Anupam’s thought process.

When encountering Anupam’s work, what strikes one immediately is her ‘sensuality of seeing’. Whether humans or objects, they are represented in their full-bodied corporeality- their skin and flesh, texture and volume captured most effectively by well-delineated contours and in the black and white (light and dark) ambiance of etching. It is her eye, and an acute sense of the ‘optic’ that guides her hand in shaping the physical reality of things. Anupam remains a committed realist, even to the extent of sometimes being photographic. This sense of realism is not reduced to a sterile function of flawless copying, but refined by an intuitive vision of the perceived object in the pictorial construction. The narrative itself is packed with telling details which provide important clues to the social satire, the wit and the clever ridicule infused in the infinite oddities of human situations.

Anupam, I think intentionally confounds both the subjective and objective worlds, where the obscure is sighted, the uncanny revealed and the incomprehensible called to account. Sud operates outside the narrow boundaries of ‘art for art’s sake’. The dual nature of reality fascinates her and is seen in her interest in polarized situations. Disqualifying traditional iconography as unsuitable to her expressive goals, she frequently attempts to divest the human form of all cultural markers -caste, creed, clothing and nationality, to represent a universal symbol. Reflecting her own personal nature, her figures dismiss confrontation and direct retaliation. In self-absorption, they are ‘set apart’ from the familiar daily environment to fully allow the effects of emotional and aesthetic experience. Anupam uses humorous ways of representing otherwise serious concerns.

Perhaps in view of the disharmony of gender relations, Anupam juxtaposes the fragmented images of female foeticide and highlights an alternate biological choice with erotic forms and men applying lipstick, suggestive of a possible future homosexual world. In the work ‘Dialogue’, one version has two men in communion, characterized more by their gentle touching than speech. While the men are located in an open, public space, the dialogue between two women in another version takes place in a dark, domestic and private space. As it happens in life all the time, there is suspicion also when persons of the same sex become companions. Anupam expects the viewer to read or misread the relationships in multiple ways, validating their power to make meanings. In her work Anupam Sud regularly uses the strategy of literal solidness where object makes the content familiar. Her work ‘Don’t Touch My Halo’ has the overwhelming centrality of a heroic male figure in a rigid statuesque pose, holding the fruits of his success, and the dancing apsaras with their sensual body rhythms, as glories of his life.

In contrast to the powerful handsome exterior (his temporary facade), the skull under the seat is a metaphor for his hidden inner self and hollow structure. . ‘The Shifting Halo’ is antithetical to this, where with the abrupt collapse of power the halo has already shifted from the dead man towards the virility and power of youth. The cold, ice-slab architectural space, the hard rendering of the face, the cropped body and the exact nature of its placement, the strong sense of shadows and silence make for a harsh visualization of the theme. There are other works dosed with concerns for pollution, hazards of industrialization, barrack-like structures, erratic electricity nuisance- all familiar stories, but invested with personal and collective meaning. ‘Dining with the Ego’ holds mystery in spite of a material sumptuousness. A sharp contrast in image is visible, with the man hogging merrily and the woman with an empty plate.

The irreconciled situation creates a kind of visual discomfort in spite of the table with its luring spread. Similarly, some of the other works represent a feminine concern, where empathy and a pained compassion pervade the imagery. Women seem to be framed, however obliquely, in a man-centered world of marriage, physical violation and invasive medical techniques. ‘The Ceremony of Unmasking(1990)’ problematizes the predicament of human relationship. There is an ambiguity about the act, whether the woman is being unmasked or masked again. Overpowered by the two men with their terrifying masks, the woman, still uncertain about her feelings flings her hands up in reflexive stance. While central panel introduces the dog as a symbol of loyalty. Locating the work in a mysterious space Anupam secludes the ritual and the characters involved, to live with the secret of the act. ‘Wee Hour’ shows a woman in a crouched position, shaped almost in human shell form that symbolizes protection, yet she is vulnerable, not guarded from her dreams and latent desires.

The incompatibility of the mind and the body is sensitively etched out in many of Anupam’s work. Her recent prints quite regularly feature the intentional visual demarcation of mental and material reality; the body and the accessories are separately juxtaposed with meanings implicit in circumstantial relationships. As an artist and as a person, Anupam is critically discerning, with a self-analytic ego secure in its self doubt. She is a thinking artist who never works with a set pattern but invites fresh challenges and seeks new discoveries with each work. Her print collages, for instance, are abstracted bits from several of her prints that make up a pictorial pseudo script. She enjoys the variety of blacks that emerge as a result of different papers used in her prints. One observes that in a rigorous medium like etching, Anupam has shown courageous preference for large formats. In fact, her zinc plates are getting larger and larger. She explains, “With drawing, the journey of the mind begins and webs stories around the theme that demand space to accommodate the monumental scale of the characters.”

Overcoming all repressive barriers, she comfortably etches the male and female body in its stark nakedness. Technically, her attraction for the unbroken line and contour heavily compounds with her perceived human form. While shaping her narratives on the zinc plate, she indulges spiritedly in the aquatint process, often darkening the entire field and then reclaiming the whites in a most painstaking (and challenging) way. Anupam’s final print makes a ‘gradual emergence’ after a sequence of improvisations and remedial measures perceived by the artist while pausing amidst the spaced acts of executing prints. Working with the reverse image and visualizing its ‘positive’ side requires special insight. Also, drawing and scraping need the plate to be positioned flat on the table but at intervals the plate needs to be placed on the board to register distortions and incongruous working. Her hand, that transfers human touch and energy, varying in pressure, force and feeling, remains undoubtedly her most important tool of working, fine tuned with her entire being.

If we compare the art work of Anupam Sud with her female contemporaries, like Nilima sheikh, Anjelina Ela Menon, Gogi Saroj Pal, her style is uniquely prosaic, even masculine. Her recent work. ‘All Paths Lead to Me’ was done before the passing of her father, as if etching a premonition. There are men standing visibly in memorial stones with the mythological reference to words of Lord Krishna inscribed on the stones. The lower area, a separate plate, depicts a man in (eternal) repose on the wooden cot that carries him on his final journey. Again the contradiction in Anupam, wherein the man in the centre above, though captured in a posture of certainty, expresses uncertainty – not knowing where to go (or perhaps where any of us will go). Her earlier work ‘Of Walls’ is based on recollections of childhood memories – the walls of the ancestral ‘kothi’,(home in Hoshiyarpur, now sold) covered with graffiti, that were so difficult to jump over in childhood and now seem to have shrunk.

The faceless presence of time is personified in the woman’s image while the recumbent male figure, legs folded on one another, is reminiscent of the very familiar sight of her grandfather resting. More than anything, it is the mystery of time, its being there and yet not there, this loss of patrimony is most acutely felt by the women of the family who are not a legatee of this former haven of childhood pleasure. ‘In Search of Two Years from the Past through First and Second Class Mail’ is a break from Anupam’s easily recognizable works. These are large colourful silk-screens in the magnified format of a posted envelope while at the Slade. They carry the spontaneous handwritten imprint of names and addresses by many of her teachers and colleagues. The monochrome human images are symbolic of people walking through time, in some subtle way their anatomies distinguish them from one another. To her credit, without adequate infrastructure and an advanced equipped environment for printmaking, an artist like Anupam Sud has made a mark both at the national and the international level.

She proudly believes this to be a unique Indian trait – “…to be able to strive so hard with so little in hand.” As printmakers update and go all electronic, Anupam Sud in many ways is an old-fashioned, slow but steady mover who after four decades is passionately continuing to refine her skills at etching. The long tedious hours of physical labour, studio confinement amidst chemicals, machine presses, heavy rollers, metal plates, burners and innumerable tools have become a way of life for her – with no substitute. “She believes nothing worthy can emerge in the absence of perseverance”. She is firm on her lifetime commitment to printmaking, especially etching. As a single woman who has given her life a purpose, Anupam indulges in art, sourcing it through her contact with life and its innumerable shades.

She acknowledges people who influenced her on the way – her parents: her father who loved body building, read detective stories and loved Punjabi theatre; her mother who adored classical music and read the Upanishads; her mentor and teacher, Jagmohan Chopra who reinforced her strengths and determination as an artist; and the presence of Somnath Hore in Delhi, whose work she closely related to. Anupam Suds’ work has been exhibited widely with over a dozen solo shows and many more group exhibitions in various Indian cities and elsewhere including the USA, UK, Italy, Korea and Switzerland. She has won numerous national and international awards for her printmaking and conducted workshops in Canada and Japan. Her work is held in many private and public collections including NGMA Delhi. It was the subject of a major publication and a retrospective organized recently. She lives and works in Delhi.

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