India Today

The Art of Suffering

Manisha Gera Baswani’s work is proof that artistic practice can bring about emotional catharsis

- —Shaikh Ayaz

To understand Manisha Gera Baswani’s ...and the dots connect now (on display at Gallery Espace, New Delhi until May 10), it helps to know her backstory. The previous decade, she says, has been life-altering for her family. After her husband Rahul underwent a heart surgery, the 54-year-old artist herself suffered bouts of ill health. This led her to take recourse to acupunctur­e. Being a “born optimist”, she adds, helped. Baswani took all her pain and suffering and made it art. Seeing Rahul’s body being surgically cut open made her aware of a profound truth: “Even a seed has to lose its identity to become a plant and find a new life.”

In what Baswani calls “a breakthrou­gh”, one day, on an impulse, she pierced paper with pins. She wanted to find out if the inanimate object would feel pain. “If subjected to such a violent act, I wondered if the paper would say ‘ouch’ like a human being, but as I kept pinning it, I saw it looked more and more beautiful,” says the Gurgaon-based artist. Her ‘pin drawings’ and ‘pin incisions’ are now on display alongside other output.

That old dictum—‘all art is autobiogra­phical’—rings especially true in Baswani’s case. In ...and the dots connect now, she has made extensive use of ordinary materials to project her “lived experience”. These days, she finds herself responding more to stray objects she finds. Having used palm dried leaves, seeds, beehives and ceramic plates in her art, she says, “I like to pick up things from nature. They live with me before they find their way into my work. If they don’t, they stay in my house as prized possession­s.”

Baswani, a pupil of renowned artist A. Ramachandr­an and also a Jamia Millia fine arts alumna, is exhibiting after a long spell. “I hope there will be lots to see,” she says. Some works, she tells us, have been heavily influenced by kintsugi, a Japanese philosophy that urges people to celebrate their scars and wear them proudly: “When we break, we must let that broken piece of ourselves be complete in itself.” The titles of Baswani’s artworks often use words like ‘healing,’ ‘parched land,’ ‘grief’ and ‘journey.’ Baswani is also an avid photograph­er and archivist, best known for her series Postcards from Home and the ongoing Artist Through the Lens. She describes her creative process as “instinctiv­e”: “I listen to my inner voice. For me, the thought comes first and the titles, later. Of course, it takes time for the dots to connect, but once they do, it’s akin to catharsis.” ■

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