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Four Decades: A Painter’s Journey

In 2016, 42 years since her first exhibition, Arpana Caur felt that it was time to look back into the past. After three months of planning, the National Gallery of Modern Art,Bengaluru, opened its doors in November last year to a quasi-retrospective of Caur’s works from her personal collection in collaboration with Vijay Aggarwal’s private collection from Swaraj Archive, Noida.The latter has been an avid collector of the artist’s work for the past few decades, amassing one of the biggest collections of Indian art in the country today. The exhibition included around 100 canvases, paper drawings, prints and a film made by Siddhartha Tagore on the artist in 2007. Unlike the traditional chronological, linear display of retrospective shows, the works were clubbed according to the subject so as to accentuatethe changes and developments in the artist’s style and method within a specific theme. After receiving a commendable response in Bengaluru, the show was shifted back to the archive in Noida where it was on until last month.

Located at the brim of the visceral and the peripheral, the art of Arpana Caur is a sincere rumination of her personal trials and experiences, incorporating local and worldly circumstances. In its various forms and mediums, it confesses the dualities of life. She 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 to Lahore and have called it home ever since. Once described by her as the “redeeming element in the darkest of times”, Arpana’s mother, Padmashree Ajeet Caur, has been and continues to be a robust force in her artistic odyssey. Caur grew up listening to the recordings of the Gurbani, reading Punjabi folk literature and her mother’s writings, as well as flipping through pages of her grandfather’s books on miniatures. In the true tradition of Sikkhism, she was taught to share from a very young age, a habitude that would gently define her in the years to come. 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.

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