Four Decades: a painter’s journey | a retrospective of works by Arpana Caur

Located at the brim of the visceral and the peripheral, the art of Arpana Caur confesses the dualities of life. It is a sincere rumination of her personal trials and experiences, incorporating local and worldly circumstances. Arpana Caur was born and raised in an environment drenched in art, culture, music, and history. At the time of the partition, her family moved to Delhi as refugees from Lahore and have called it home ever since. Once described by her as the “redeeming element in the darkest of times”, Arpana’s mother, Padmashri Smt. Ajeet Caur, has been and continues to be a robust force in her artistic odyssey. She grew up listening to the recordings of the Gurbani, reading Punjabi folk literature and her mother’s writings, and flipping through pages of her grandfather’s books on miniatures. In the true tradition of Sikhism, she was taught to share from a very young age, a habitude that would gently define her in the years to come. Since the past 35 years, Arpana and her mother have been independently running a charitable school for slum women and actively participating in several other benevolent projects in the country. From sedentary activities, human tragedies, socio-economic disparities and realities; to religion, spiritualism, and the environment; this very characteristic concern and sensitivity seeps into her work and courses through it with a life of its own.

As previously observed by many critics and writers, the isolation of the individual and the struggle with identity is a recurring theme in her oeuvre. Although her life-size figures have changed many faces since the beginning of her career, they have been consistent in the suggestion of notions much larger than the self. In her series ‘Widows of Vrindaban’, ‘Love beyond measure’, ‘Labourers’, ‘World goes on…’ her works capacitate the neglected or the deprived by acting as organs of empowerment. They are the forces of resistance in changing times in ‘Dharti’ and ‘Day and Night’. Whatever the subject, the paintings are always contemporary statements of the artist’s perception of the world and the perennial need to fix it. She is as fearless and bold on canvas as she is timid in real life.

She has successfully participated in several biennales and shows, solo as well as group since 1974, including Rabindra Bhawan Gallery, New Delhi; Gallery Arts 38, London; Jehangir Gallery, Mumbai; City Gallery, Ottawa; Chapter Gallery, Cardiff; October Gallery, London; Ethnographic Museum, Stockholm; National Museum, Copenhagen; Cymroza Gallery, Mumbai; Veda Gallery, Chennai; Mahua Gallery, Bangalore; the first Baghdad Biennale; Cuba Biennale; Algiers Biennale; Collins Gallery, Glasgow; Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai and Bangalore; Arks Gallery, London; Singapore Museum of Modern Art; Rotunda Gallery, Hong Kong; Fine Art Resources, Berlin; Foundation for Indian Artists, Amsterdam; Bose Pacia Gallery, New York; Galerie Müller & Plate, Munich; and Indigo Blue Gallery, Singapore; to name a few.

Her works are a part of many museums and collections including Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Peabody Essex Museum, Boston; Glenbarra Museum, Japan; Rockefeller Collection, New York; Bradford Museum; Singapore Art Museum; Kapany Collection, San Francisco; Swaraj Art Archive, Noida; Hiroshima Museum, Japan; Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal; and of course, the NGMA Collection in Delhi, Chandigarh, Mumbai, and Bangalore; among others.

She has also painted non-commercial murals in public spaces in Bangalore, Delhi, Hamburg and Kathmandu.

Curated by the Prarthana and Priyanka Tagore at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Bengaluru.

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