“IN INDIA, IF IT STAYS STILL long enough to be painted, it will be…” says Natasha Kumar, a distinguished UK-born artist who has explored and depicted her Indian heritage using her creative talent.
Born in Manchester and raised in Derbyshire, Natasha Kumar was born to an Indian father and a very traditional English mother. She comes from a long line of artists on her mother’s side of the family.
Natasha began her art education with a foundation course in printmaking and studied Anatomy and Printmaking at the Venice School of Art for an extra year. She continued to study for a Masters in printmaking at Camberwell in 2000.
She was never afraid to obey her instincts despite the conflicting choices of her peers: “My friends went to Cambridge and Oxford to begin high-flying degrees; I went to the local art college. It was a natural division.”
She says that during her childhood, her parents sacrificed a lot of materialistic luxuries, which were given more importance by their Indian friends, to afford her private school education. They also considered travel and exposure to other cultures as beneficial to her personal growth.
Her parents fully supported her career choice, which meandered away from the usual paths other Indian parents typically encourage their children to follow, such as medicine, dentistry, engineering and accountancy.
Born in 1976, some of her family members convey surprise at the fact that she is in her thirties and not happily married with children. But Natasha’s passion was always free to grow and flourish.
A colourful past
Her love affair with India began as a child, with her earliest childhood memory being of a turquoise room containing a vivid picture of a striking figure, which she thinks may have been the Hindu God, Krishna: “I remember being frightened and crying, but curious all at the same time– that hasn’t changed”, she says.
Natasha’s fascination with colour found its home in India. Colour holds so much depth in Indian culture – it mirrors religious beliefs. For example, black represents evil and can be used to ward off evil spirits: a black dot painted on the chin or under the ear repels the evil eye. White deters all light and colours, therefore a widow will usually wear white to deprive herself from the pleasures of life and living. Red is associated with Ma Durga, a powerful Hindu goddess and induces fear but also signifies purity, fertility and prosperity. That is why Indian brides are usually adorned in red.
India bursts with a kaleidoscopic culture and is also a country of colourful contrasts and Natasha often uses snapshots of everyday life as her subjects. For example, her painting of the words ‘Blow Horn’, which are typically found brightly painted on the reverse of large vehicles, is testament to the fact that a whole host of surfaces in India can offer themselves as a canvas. Words alone are not enough as a mode of expression.
Natasha’s work was inspired by a long, winter trip through India in March 2009. She has travelled many times throughout India, taking photographs that inspired her and then using the images as basis for her work.
She says that as a traveller, she tends to move quickly, which can be detrimental for an artist who needs to be still and observe their surroundings. And she prefers to paint with the subjects of her creations present before her. Therefore, she used her photographs, swift pastel drawings and pencilled notes as points of reference.
She didn’t travel in the lap of luxury but at the feet of reality. She slept on the floor of shared family rooms and ate traditional dhal (lentils) and rice. She spent long, hot journeys with her brothers and parents driving through Rajasthan, crammed in the back of an Ambassador, which is a traditional and iconic car of India.
Country of contrasts
Her work shows the play of light and shadow and she painted at times of day where these elements emphasised her subject and its colours. She also draws on humour and irony of the multi-faceted culture. Natasha tends to surrender to the unpredictable course of her artistic flow: “My painting does not move forward like a well-written essay with a beginning a middle and an end – the work ebbs and flows in waves,” she says. “Eventually, the waves breach the sea wall and the painting is complete. It is exhausting,” she adds.
The essence of her work depicts this country of contrasts. A woman draped in traditional sari leaning against a garish backdrop of a bright advertisement painted on a wall; a group of men playing cards with one man fanning his set of cards, and in the background, a wall image of a brightly painted multi-handed goddess; a line of cows walking along a road alongside trucks and cars, which is nature traipsing alongside fast-paced modernity.
A lot of her work portrays the street advertisement and commercial culture of India alongside daily life – India’s eager progressive steps into the future, side by side with the past that has led to where the country stands now.
Natasha has the advantage of being brought up in the western world, viewing her subjects through westernised eyes so that she can compare and contrast the haphazard Indian way of life with the ordered society of the West.
It is questionable whether an Indian would be in as much awe of such imagery. Natasha says that her older aunts and uncles generally prefer her traditional artwork.
India is a swiftly progressing country, but it still has a firm hold on its tradition. Natasha portrays how old is juxtaposed with new, tradition strolls alongside modernity and a simplistic way of life plays in the shadows of new age advancements. The allure of her Indian roots pulls her to visit the country so that she can look beneath the surface and find deeper meaning to her work.
India is the perfect focus for an artist’s eye searching for inspiration. Fortunately, her view was never obstructed by any conflicting expectations from her parents. And with the multitude of colour, shades and tones, her rainbow palette is worn away to its bare surface every time she chooses India as her humbly willing yet vivacious subject.
Natasha Kumar will be showcasing her work at the Bankside Gallery (next to the entrance of the Tate Modern) from Friday 11th – Sunday 13th November 2011, 11am – 6pm. Entrance is free.
Visit her website for further information: www.natashakumar.co.uk
– Monica Sarkar
All images are courtesy of Natasha Kumar.
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