Dr Gunjan Shrivastava is a professional artist, educator, art critic and co-founder of You Lead India Foundation based in Mumbai. She loves to play around with new media and uses Cyanotype, a mid-nineteenth century printing process to capture the beauty of nature in its natural form.
In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, she speaks about her myriad passions and her obsession with decay and death.
Tell us about your recent solo show at Jahangir Art Gallery. How did you depict the five elements of nature?
My collection ‘Adviata’ accentuates the philosophy of oneness of an individual soul, God and the universe. The inspiration behind this collection is the five elements of nature, these elements that constitute the universe; Prithvi (Earth), Jal (Water), Agni (Fire), Vaayu (Air) and Akasha (Space).
The use of abstraction is consistent with the philosophy of Advaita where the elements do not associate with form but instead depict as mediums. The aim was to use fluidity of interpretation that is associated with abstract paintings. The purpose was to let each viewer interpret how the element as mediums, dictates one’s experience in the universe.
What does art mean to you?
Art is my energy, my fuel. Art is my medium of expression to my personal journey on this planet as it plays as a connection between me and the world around me. My relationship with art is bilateral, there are a series of questions and answers that emerge in the process of art making. Repetition, stillness, and rhythm are essential elements in my work; they help me to create a moment of silence within me, helping me to connect with myself.
You use Cyanotype for portraying issues of the environment. What are the advantages of Cyanotypes?
I use camera-less photography which is a mid-nineteenth century printing process to capture dried and worn-out leaves in their distinctive essence. It is a meditative moment, making use of fragments, light, shadows and process. The chemistry used in the process has an unpredictable behaviour posing science as an inherently experiential art making. Using the sun as the source of energy, which magically translates the subject into something ethereal, I enjoy both the process and its outcome. Behind the visual excitement I feel when I see the striking blue colour and the relationships of the organic shapes it captures, there are multiple steps needing technicality.
Though after many years of exploring this technique I believe that cyanotype is the easiest way to document nature in its natural form.
What are some of the new trends in textile designing?
The latest trend of raw weaves, earthy hues and natural textures organic and environment-friendly materials addresses the growing awareness of sustainable alternatives. The industry is becoming mindful of the production of textiles and clothing and how this process does not have to pollute the environment. The latest trend in textiles is arguably timeless, resurfacing the use of raw silks, cotton linens, and heavy weaves in tones such as taupes, creams, browns and greys.
Natural decay is a dominant theme in your work. Why are you so fascinated with decay and death?
Through my works, I hope to share something thoughtful and intriguing with viewers, and to arouse their curiosity. Knowing and feeling are not separate, and the whole of the environment can be used as a pedagogic instrument. My engagement with issues relating to sustainability drives me to explore cyanotypes documenting decaying leaves in their natural form while attempting to restore the belief in redemptive restoration and emboldening better environmental practice to reclaim what is degraded, damaged and destroyed.
Which is your favourite medium?
Experimentation is a major part of my work and I enjoy working intuitively, giving myself the freedom to change my subjects and my mediums from time to time. Like all trained artists, I started with traditional methods and mediums of painting but years later I found the pleasure in conceptualising new stories through my cyanotype processes and various other mixed media techniques. My mediums do not go by the books or any set rules, I like to play around and investigate new media according to my requirements.
COVID-19 has transformed the art scene in India. Has the pandemic opened new avenues for artists in India?
This pandemic has definitely seen a change in artistic trends and perhaps changed the landscape of the industry forever. While many large events have been cancelled or postponed, some have moved to virtual. The new trend or rather the shift toward online exhibition is going to stay. Major museums had already started featuring their collection online but now even local galleries are moving towards more viewer friendly virtual experience. Though, the world will surface back to on-site exhibits but still this pandemic has taught us a new way of looking at art especially benefitting for artists who found it a challenge to find space or means to exhibit in galleries.