Inside Amrit Pal Singh’s vivid world of Toy Faces, NFTs, art, and nostalgia
by Sunena V MajuMay 04, 2023
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Rosalyn D`MelloPublished on : May 20, 2023
The two-line email I received from artist Manmeet Devgun the evening before I began writing this column speaks volumes. “Just editing a video in between making dinner and thinking of your question-when do I make art! Yes, it happens like this…” When I look at her Facebook page the next morning, I laugh at her status update field in Hindi under the hashtag #studiodayrants.mujhe 4 studio chahiye
In it she articulates her desire for four studios—one in which to paint, one in which to work on her photography, one for her mixed media art explorations, and one in which to think. Everything cannot happen in a 10x10 room, she complains. I wondered what kind of art she would make if she did find herself in possession of such a capacious space, along with the kind of time one needs to really get into a flow. I imagine the bodies of work she would create would be impressive indeed, perhaps encompassing the kind of scale and philosophical loftiness of her male counterparts, like Jitish Kallat, for example, whose privileged art-making process allows for interrogations into notions of infinity and deep time.
Were she to find herself with the desired resources, while I would be happy for her, I would certainly mourn the end of the work she has, in fact, been doing in tandem with motherhood and her profession as an art educator. Her multimedia art work is so marvellously entangled with her engagement with her domestic mundane and the business of trying not to lose oneself. There’s often this sense of a female subjectivity that wants to unmoor itself from the dilemma of obligation. She’s like a poet who has no time for pensive solitude and must note down the stray, fully formed lines that arrive in her conscious mind while handling dishwashing liquid or ironing clothes. Manmeet's bodies of work are invested in such maternal experiences of time in that they reflect her attempts to belong to herself amid constant and continual interruptions and while being eternally needed. One could say her art visualises the fear many women artists have historically held—having to care for a child and losing one’s time and freedom. But her work doesn’t advance any kind of either-or scenario, its power lies in how authentically it speaks to the plurality of emotions she experiences while being a caretaker. They are inflected with so much grace and a certain calm security of feeling deeply anchored in oneself. They metabolise circumstance to channel an abundance. While I had previously only glimpsed at her work or witnessed a few of her performances, Manmeet’s recent solo exhibition at Quarentena Galeria, an online art gallery founded in Chile, curated by artist Sandeep Biswas offered a small opportunity to sample a few offerings from several photographic bodies of work.
I asked Manmeet how she navigated her artistic subjectivity while performing diverse vocations, from motherhood to art educator to community organiser to feminist, and she said her artistic subjectivity is exactly what binds these different roles. “They cannot be seen separately from each other. Manmeet is not outside of these but in all of them and always trying to connect them. Being a mother is not separate from being an art educator or an artist,” she elaborated. “I did this performance in Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2013 where I was hammering my clothes onto a board and in the middle of it I got a call from my neighbours that my daughter had been locked inside the house. I had to cut off my clothes and rush out. The exit was the performance, where a mother rushes, leaving the performance space.” She used the phrase entangled separations to describe the complexity of all the nurturing roles she performs. Did motherhood mark her as an artist? Not quite. “I was a practicing artist before I became a mother. Motherhood gave new trajectories to creating art and experiencing life. Motherhood changes subjectivity for all mothers, perhaps, as another life depends on you. Sacrifices change meaning, sickness changes priorities, freedoms become more responsible. The Monday test becomes supreme, the basketball game, the birthday party, mingling with other mothers and constant comparisons of parenting, forgetting you are a single mother. Your anxieties are not just art related but more child-centric, life-centric.”
I not only agreed with every word but related wholly to the sentiment. I have been a writer for more than a decade, and yet, being a mother for almost a year has altered my subjectivity and transformed the nature of my anxieties. Where before I wrestled with procrastination, now I treasure every pocket of time I manage to retrieve out of nowhere. I woke up at 5.30am to write this column, knowing that once my child was awake, I would only be able to continue when he took his first nap. I won’t deny I am mildly dreading the sound of his enthusiastic wake-up call announcing he is refreshed and ready for a second round of play, which will mean I will have to wait until his next nap to continue. Meanwhile I am also managing editing and proofreading work and hoping to begin and finish a 2000-word personal essay by Saturday or Sunday. I asked Manmeet when she finds time to make art, she responded much in the same way I would have; “Whenever possible! When my daughter was small it was usually after her sleep time, now it is between driving around for tuitions, waiting in the car, late nights on weekends, on public holidays. Every minute that is possible.” The toughest challenge, though, is taking time out to work in the studio. She tries to manage this on weekends.
She addressed some of these concerns in a 2019 project, The Mother’s Studio, that was part of the Five Million Incidents, a program curated by Raqs Media Collective in collaboration with Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi. The project involved nine single mothers who gathered to create an exhibition and conduct workshops for kids, culminating in a three-day event with a collective performance. “The project was the result of meeting several single women and sharing our experiences,” wrote Manmeet, clarifying that she had been working on this idea since 2013. “I am really indebted to all these single mothers who had the courage to be a part of this project. Because life as a single mother (in India) is so hard that many times we don’t want to claim it. It’s like being a live specimen in the bio lab. Everything will be dissected. Everything will be judged. Our society is really unkind toward single mothers.”
Could there be better support structures within the arts infrastructural set up that could enable greater gender equality, particularly for single mothers, I asked Manmeet. “The art world marginalises people on several grounds—on politics, personal choices, class… on being a single mother, I’m not sure,” she responded. “But there have been instances where I have been judged for the lack of work due to motherhood responsibilities.” One of the reasons she struggles is because there aren’t enough role models, especially when one has either minimal or almost no access to familial support. “When I was in Switzerland on my Pro Helvetia residency, I met this group of mothers and artists who took care of each other’s kids. They had divided the weekdays among each other. Each mother was assigned a day to cook and pick up the kids from school. So, everyone got four days to work. Isn’t it such a wonderful arrangement?”
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of STIR or its Editors.)
by Rosalyn D`Mello Jun 02, 2023
Viewing the exhibition Niki De Saint Phalle in the company of a sea of random visitors contributed to the visceral gush the fleshy works innately evoke.
by Dilpreet Bhullar Jun 01, 2023
The documentary photographer Ciril Jazbec has embraced the value of nature to talk about the rising adversity around climate change in his photographic art practice.
by Dilpreet Bhullar May 29, 2023
Norwegian contemporary artist Hanne Friis responds to changing the way of life with the pandemic, specifically around the use of material in our urban lives.
by Manu Sharma May 26, 2023
Russian artist Maxim Zhestkov discusses his virtual reality project that blurs various creative disciplines.
make your fridays matterSUBSCRIBE
Don't have an account?Sign Up
Or you can join with
Please select your profession for an enhanced experience.
Tap on things that interests you.
Select the Conversation Category you would like to watch
Please enter your details and click submit.
Enter the code sent to
What do you think?