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Digital Artists in Residence at India Art Fair offers myriad perspectives on art

In conversation with STIR, two digital artists in residence at India Art Fair 2023, explore their process and practice, bringing vividly different takes on their craft.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Feb 03, 2023

India Art Fair is all set to offer both, casual viewers and art connoisseurs a feast, by exploring fascinating creative practices that populate the South Asian art scene. The art fair typically features practitioners of all genres and fame, and 2023 promises to be no different. However, India Art Fair 2023's Digital Artists in Residence programme is of particular interest, this time around, with each bringing a vividly different take on the ephemeral craft. The practitioners include Gaurav Ogale, Mira Felicia Malhotra, and Varun Desai. The art for this residency was created on Apple systems, and apart from sharing their works at the residency, the artists will also lead Today at Apple sessions, which will be available at Apple stores worldwide, and are meant to inspire Apple customers to enhance their creativity. Returning to the residency, we focus on Ogale and Malhotra.

Work in progress from Ogale, 2022, image, Gaurav Ogale| IAF Digital | STIRworld
Work in progress from Ogale, 2022, image, Gaurav Ogale Image: Courtesy of Gaurav Ogale and India Art Fair

In a note, stating his mission statement while at the residency, Ogale says, “I have been archiving moments and stories I have encountered, on my phone— recording sounds and conversations with people on the streets of Mumbai; people, one might refer to as ordinary.” During the digital residency, he re-imagined how 'best-sellers' are marketed in book stores today, and questioned the agency of how we perceive biographies that are branded in beautifully designed book covers.

To this end, he crafted six audio-visual covers that tell stories of ordinary people with extraordinary lived histories, hitherto hidden behind invisible barriers that divide us, preventing us from truly knowing one another. He adds, “These are everyday biographies that I have witnessed in person, that have left an impact on me.”

Elaborating on his creative methodology, he tells STIR: “My practice over the years has spanned across several mediums and genres—from working with artist residencies to design studios and from cultural organisations to museums—so for me art-making has been associated with both ends of the spectrum, as a creator and a curator of sorts. Primarily, however, I am a visual chronicler and I document everyday ordinary instances that stay in my visual memory.”

In recent years, collaborations have been an integral part of the creator’s practice, and so he has placed a larger focus on creating in tandem—a dance of sensibilities, bringing together writing and filmmaking along, on his creative excursions. When asked about his greatest inspirations, Ogale explains that, apart from several writers, artists and architects that inspire him, someone who really stands out is Agnes Varda. He intuitively relates to her medium of storytelling, and likes how she constructs the world of her stories, ever inviting to folks who may not be from her culture. “Retaining aesthetics and cultural nuance is something I consciously try to weave into my work as well,” Ogale tells us.

Ogale at work, 2022, video, Gaurav Ogale Video: Courtesy of Gaurav Ogale and India Art Fair

Malhotra, on the other hand, explores her practice, as work that is more often, than not, a negotiation with her inner self; a struggle between who she wants to be, and who she is. Throughout years of creating art, she has always gravitated towards drawing brown women, who she empowers to live out her fantasies, appearing as manifestations of who she wishes to be seen.

Through surrealism, humour, the usage of intense colours, and the inner workings of character design, she tackles feminist ideas that often aren’t discussed in the mainstream. “My work is accessible, engaging and joyful in its treatment, treading far from realism, sometimes even making use of novelty, packaged so that it can seamlessly deliver unpalatable truths,” she says.

The artist is drawn to the natural world as well, often personifying flora and fauna, building worlds from the resultant characters. Malhotra believes her work is very much still in a state of evolution, morphing ideas she encounters—traversing and combining a world of academic concepts and lowbrow, pop and punk art.

Space Snaxxx: Mewad Madam on Mars, 2021, digital raster, Mira Felicia Malhotra| STIRworld
Space Snaxxx: Mewad Madam on Mars, 2021, digital raster, Mira Felicia Malhotra Image: Courtesy of Mira Felicia Malhotra and India Art Fair

In the work that Malhotra produced as part of the residence, the digital artist addressed common family dynamics within modern Indian society; informed by her own life experiences, and inspired by the work of mental health professionals Dr Richard Schwartz and Dr Salvador Minuchin. A note about her work tells us, “To project an ideal of perfection, normalcy or even passivity, families often aggressively reject individuality, hide dysfunction, or both. The static physical canvases mislead, masking the conflicts underneath. Through the use of augmented reality, the animated videos make evident far more complex and familiar situations especially with regards to the problematic ideas of rigid gender roles.”

Profile picture of Gaurav Ogale | IAF Digital | STIRworld
Profile picture of Gaurav Ogale Image: Courtesy of Gaurav Ogale and India Art Fair

Malhotra is a fan of punk rock and its associated movements such as Straight-Edge and Riot Grrrl, which is a feminist subculture that creates vivid zines channelling women's rage. She elaborates, “This is also where my focus on DIY ethics comes from. Anti-corporatism and anti-authoritarianism all inspire my feminist ideals and find their way into my work.”

She explains that a lot of punk rock songs are meant to be played by amateurs with a rudimentary understanding of guitars and drums, in order to convey a political message. “It's not a refined, classical or orthodox way of thinking,” she continues, “and I find a lot of freedom in that kind of unfettered expression. The big boned women in my Haseena Paseena are huge and large, and pose shamelessly with saccharine colour without too much fussiness, yet seem appealing and apolitical, but oddly political at the same time. I like to create things that seem inoffensive and easy to do, but also make you wrestle with some political truth.”

Mira with art | IAF Digital | STIRworld
Mira with art Image: Courtesy of Mira Felicia Malhotra and India Art Fair

Ogale is often found working in person at residencies, so the Digital Artists in Residence Programme, which saw him create remotely, was a new and rather valuable experience for him. He says, “It's been quite enriching so far because the digital residency offers you the flexibility to create while you are on the move and also some sense of secluding yourself and immersing yourself completely in what you create. The digital support has been wonderful because of several workshops and focused sessions we have been doing with fellow artists and digital experts.”

Malhotra answered the call for the art fesitval’s residency and sees her acceptance as a gift at the end of the holiday. She says, quite happily, that it's been lovely to take a break from her regular design work. “It's just been a delight, and by the end of this, I feel I know myself much better as an artist because of this process.”

Click here to read more about India Art Fair 2023 which is taking place from February 9-12 at NSIC Exhibition Grounds Okhla, New Delhi.

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