Launched in 2014, PhotoSparks is a weekly column of Your story, with photographs that celebrate the spirit of creativity and innovation. In the previous 620 posts, we featured a arts festival, cartoon gallery. world music festival, telecom fair, millet fair, exhibition on climate change, wildlife conference, boot festival, diwali rangoli, and jazz festival.
Treasury Art Gallery in New Delhi is the host of the month at the unique exhibition, Codes of a future, traces of the past by a contemporary artist Anni Kumari.
Organized by Sanjana Shah, the personal exhibition combines themes from mathematics and cosmology. The 10 distinct large works fill the carefully designed and lit space, with black and white images contoured in stark contrast.
Transmitted with a fascinating experience for the public, the artist connects the past and the future, the material and the spiritual. The grids expose geometric precision, capturing intriguing patterns, ratios and duality.
Anni’s previous work included Algorithms and Blur the boundaries. She has won a series of awards and scholarships from India and the United States. Originally from Jamshedpur, she is a visiting professor at the Department of Visual Arts, Ashoka University.
The two-storey gallery was founded by Tina Chandroji, graduated from the JJ School of Applied Art. It also hosts seminars, workshops, conferences, talks and discussion sessions to build communities and conversations around art.
The series of paintings is titled Intersections, Echo, Bluff Point, and Some equations have multiple identities. The acrylic and oil on canvas works were completed in the period 2018-2022. They are priced from Rs 3.75 lakh to Rs 9 lakh.
In this long interview, Anni shares her artistic journey, her creative process and advice for audiences and artists.
Excerpts edited below:
Your story [YS]: What does art mean to you?
Anni Kumari [AK]: For me, art is a constant search to know and experience how we are connected to the cosmos.
[YS]: How would you describe your own unique style? How did you develop it in terms of technique, form, theme and message?
[AK]: I think my style is a combination of two aspects: functional logic and aesthetics. So, if I had to describe it in one word (with a hyphen), I would say “functional aesthetic”.
My style developed very gradually after graduating from art school when I started to reflect on my interest in mathematics as a universal language and explore ritual traditions and folk art that have a strong foundation in geometry and mathematical logic.
Then, I did several experiments to develop a methodology that allowed me to work with a single pigment (black) and obtain a form dense and nebulous, and had both centripetal and centrifugal properties.
What I intend to convey to audiences is the experience of looking at form that has spatial/cosmic relevance and allowing them to think about the labor and time involved in the creative process.
[YS]: What is your creative process. How do you come up with an idea for an artwork and then develop it?
[AK]: I usually take different approaches to different works, but most of the time it all starts with an observation which I then expand on by researching and reading about it.
Next comes a series of small-scale drawings, mostly based on memory and intuition. I then look at several visual references to try to decide how I would go about creating large format drawings involving precise geometric shapes with lots of minute detail.
Once the structural aspect of my design is clear to me, then begins the laborious process of precise brushstrokes which continues for several weeks and months before the work is ready.
[YS]: How does an artist learn from his mistakes and failures? What are the ways to learn and move forward?
[AK]: I think the best way to learn, grow and move forward is to keep creating and exhibiting work. Because it’s the only way to understand how scale, materials, space and light play a very important role in how the work is seen and experienced.
[YS]: What has been your background so far?
[AK]: My journey has been slow but steady. I had two solo exhibitions and three group exhibitions organized in India in the last year. I have created about twenty large-scale works over the past two and a half years.
[YS]: Do you also teach and lead workshops?
[AK]: I have taught theoretical and practical courses in various institutions in India and am currently a visiting professor in the Department of Visual Arts at Ashoka University, Sonipat.
I also facilitated several workshops, in particular for children within the framework of two scholarship programs by ArtReach India.
[YS]: How would you define success for yourself as an artist, architect?
[AK]: For me, success is synonymous with sustenance. As long as I can maintain my practice and can touch another person’s life in some way through creating art or teaching, I feel successful.
[YS]: How to improve art appreciation in India?
[AK]: By bringing about structural and policy change in arts education with more grants, scholarships, and fellowships for arts projects, conducting exhibitions, research, writing, and disseminating knowledge about arts practices through collaborations between institutions, organizations and individuals.
[YS]: What works have you specially prepared for this exhibition? Can you say a few words about how you created them?
[AK]: I have created a series of three works, each 7X5 feet, in acrylic and oil on canvas, called Intersections. These works were created through a painstaking process involving the precise construction of vertical, horizontal and spiral grids using a beam compass, protractors and scales of various kinds.
The natural numbers between 1 and 1,00,000 have been plotted on the spiral grids. I then selected prime numbers and a combination of prime and composite numbers from the rest of the numbers.
This has led to the creation of unique mathematical models which have a close connection with the calculation of days, months and the occurrence of cosmic phenomena such as eclipses tracked in ancient lunisolar calendars called panchang.
[YS]: What other projects are you currently working on?
[AK]: I am working on a series of large scale collages and a set of multiple drawings based on ancient astronomical instruments, known as yantras.
[YS]: What was your experience at the exhibition in terms of feedback and new ideas?
[AK]: There is a renewed interest in my works after the opening of the exhibition. Most people liked the way the works were presented. I have critical responses in terms of what others materials I could use for my works and how I could divide my works into parts.
For me, it was an opportunity to see how a body of my work came together and also to be able to view past and more recent works simultaneously. It gave me new ideas to revisit some of the projects I had started earlier but did not pursue.
I also realized the importance of document the different stages of my process. I hope that I intend to exhibit fragments of the making of the works for my next exhibitions.
[YS]: How do you stay engaged in these times of coronavirus? How has this affected your work?
[AK]: I think it allowed me to slow down and focus more fully on art and gardening. The focus of my practice remains unchanged, but there is an element of mortality that gradually enters my works.
[YS]: What are your recommendations to the public on how to approach and interpret art?
[AK]: I would say that the public needs to encounter the works with fresh eyes, without thinking too much about the message or the meaning behind the works.
We have a real need to be surrounded by beauty and this joy of seeing something beautiful is in itself the message.
[YS]: What is your advice for budding artists?
[AK]: Work hard, be patient and trust your intuition!
Now what have you done today to take a break from your busy schedule and find new avenues to apply your creativity?
(All photographs in the exhibition were taken by Madanmohan Rao on location at the Treasure Art Gallery.)