Life | Looking Glass

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Looking Glass
Text by Supriya Nair
Published: Volume 17, Issue 5, May, 2009

Raw materials for art are many; glass not the least of them. In it, Hemi Bawa finds visual lightness and Tatheer Daryani perceives an autobiographical and metaphorical element. Aaditi Joshi opts for the transparency (and opacity) of plastic, while SUPRIYA NAIR looks on

It’s not surprising that the dominant mode of glass art is one of a compelling tradition of depictive work, which invites a viewer to respond to the work primarily as a piece of craftsmanship. Glass is a medium that visually interacts with the everyday lives of people in the way stone or metal rarely do. A vital and visible part of architecture, industrial design, and utilitarian household items, glass appears in the foreground in daily experience because of its fragility and reflective qualities.

All of these qualities are communicated in the work of some of our most famous contemporary artists, from Lalique to Dale Chihuly. The difference between the work of these two alone highlights the extraordinary flexibility of glass as an art material. With glass, the distinctions between abstract and naturalistic art, between the formalism of high art and the utilitarianism of household objects, like wine glasses, paperweights or fine china, collapse.

Some Indian artists and sculptors pick up on these aspects of the medium and use it in their own work in complex forms and in interaction with other media. For veteran Hemi Bawa, a pioneer in glass sculpture in India and recipient of the Padma Shri (awarded last month), there is a preoccupation with the method and craft of the workshop that echoes the motives and modes of Chihuly. “I have personally found many ways to play with glass,” she says, “I use materials like steel, copper, aluminium, wood, and fibre glass to enhance the glass that I am working on.” In contrast to the material challenges of working in the medium, the values that glass brings to a piece are brilliantly clear, for her. “I am inspired by light and space, and a feeling of openness. I do not like clutter. I generally do not work on a very large colour palette for one particular work. I am really fascinated by the way light is trapped into glass.”

In spite of her attention to craft, her work demonstrates a tendency to veer away from the representational fairly markedly. “I consider my work contemporary,” she says of this. “The forms are generally representative of the feeling more than being narrative.”

The inclination towards the use of glass in abstract forms runs through the more recent work of artists like Tatheer Daryani, for whom it forms one aspect of her largely autobiographical work. “I use materials which are metaphorical in the essence,” Daryani says. “I use latex, hair blood, glass and mercury. This work embodies the use of industrial material with organic bodily elements, and forces their combination in glass containment.” The result is an amalgam in which industrial material merges with organic bodily elements, entrapped in small glass captivators. The whole effect of the work is that of a dark, pulsing jewel, one in which glass retains its essential quality of a medium, becoming the sap and the mirror in which the essence of Daryani’s narrative is caught and held.

The environmental concerns that colour the use of glass also influence the texture and intent of the work itself. Says Bawa of her own materials, “I am always using different kinds of waste glass – broken window panes, broken architectural glass bricks or sometimes even just drinking glasses.” The challenge, she maintains, is to find the right glass for the right sculpture.

Some of the same issues crop up in the use of a medium like plastic, with its obvious similarities of appearance and purpose to glass. The transparency of plastic had a powerful effect on the work of artist Aaditi Joshi. “I lived in south Mumbai’s Nana Chowk area situated in the heart of a huge marketplace, where fruit, vegetables, cloth and imitation jewellery were finely wrapped and seal packed in very fine see-through plastic bags. I constantly looked to them whenever I passed through the market place, and observed them for hours through my balcony.” The ubiquity of the material – again, echoes of how glass infiltrates virtually every aspect of human life and commerce – translated into a connection with the medium. “Plastic represents the time we are living in,” says Joshi. Opacity and usability are powerful themes in her work.

True to nature, yet responsive to chemistry and abstract sense, luxe object and industrial component, the artistic tensions mined in glass art are, to an extent, contained in the material itself. In a sense, light itself is made manifest in glass. The “character” that Bawa ascribes to it, tough and many-faceted, is alchemical.

Aaditi Joshi and Tatheer Daryani’s work is on display at Gallery Maskara, Mumbai until May 10.

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