Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The Blessed One

It was a sunny day, a Sunday in February. We were at our stalls, rather behind them in any available shade, during the one day Art Fest that is now becoming an annual feature of Chennai. Hot, sweaty, and eagerly looking out for any prospective art lovers passing by, I was happy to see a middle-aged man with a ready smile stop to keenly look at my work. While I was wondering if this perusing would soon translate into a sale, and trying to recollect again the prices that I had quoted for each, I was pleasantly surprised when the shortish, bespectacled man with greying temples said, “If you don’t mind could I ask you a few questions?”. “Sure”, I said, of course. A good conversation with random folks is what makes such events worth one’s time.

“I have a daughter who’s in the 10th now. And I have to help her take a decision soon about what to major in next year. All my friends and family members are advising me to put her in the science stream, to make her an engineer to secure her future. But she loves art, and writing. What do you think are the prospects for an artist now a days? Is it a secure line of work?” the man asked.

And in my mind, immediately, I saw a picture of Sumakshi Singh. “Yes”, I told the concerned father confidently, feeling the spirit of Maria Montessori nodding nearby, “yes. Trust in your daughter’s choices for her life, allow her, support her to follow her passions, in fact go all out to push her to do whatever she loves the most. And she will be fine.”

“You’re the first person today to tell me that,” said the smiling-with-disbelief father. “Everyone else I’ve asked this question says let her study science or computers to ensure a good job in the future, and continue with art as a hobby.”

“Sir, does your daughter truly love art?” I calmly asked.

“Yes, very much”, he answered, without missing a beat.

“Then trust her. And trust life,” I said, “Bless her, and watch her bloom.”

I have no clue what that anxious father decided that day, not having met him again, but I hope he chose love over fear to guide his child through a very critical phase of her life. Just as Sumakshi Singh’s parents did.

I call her the blessed one. Blessed with clarity, born into a family where art was very much a valid, accepted part of life, with a mother who was an artist herself. Sumakshi Singh was just two years old when she declared “I’m going to be an artist.” And what a life its been since!

The nature of Sumakshi’s father’s job entailed setting up house afresh every few years, relocating to different cities, and thus shifting schools and making new friends over and over again. Besides a loving family, what kept Sumakshi grounded through it all was art. After her 12th boards, Sumakshi chose to study art at the Maharaja Sayajirao University), Baroda, India. Happily immersed in this artistic environment for four years, Sumakshi topped her graduating class winning the gold medal. She then chose to continue studying art, enrolling herself in the Masters of Fine Arts Program, Painting and Drawing, at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, where she continued as an art teacher for the next five years. 

And then? Well, this is how her Biography on her website reads:

Sumakshi Singh is an artist and an educator who has taught for five years at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and lectured at Oxford University, Columbia University and The Chicago Humanities Festival among other museums and colleges. She has mentored residencies for the Victoria and Albert Museum, TheWhyNotPlace 2010 and 2011 and was a visiting artist advisor at KHOJ Delhi.
Her interactive installations, paintings, drawings, embroideries and sculptures have been presented in solo and curated group gallery and museum exhibitions in India, China, USA, Canada, France, Italy and Switzerland. Recent venues include Saatchi Gallery, London, UK,  Kochi Biennale, Kochi, India, Museum of Contemporary Art, Lyon, France, MAXXI Museum, Rome, Italy, UCCA Beijing, Mattress Factory Museum of Contemporary Art, Pittsburgh, PA, Van Harrison Gallery New York, NY, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL, Illinois State Museum, IL, Kashya Hildebrand Galerie, Zurich Halsey Gallery, Charleston, SC and ArtHouse Texas, TX. She was awarded a Zegna Grant in 2009, an Illinois Arts Council award in 2007 (in recognition of outstanding work and commitment within the arts) and Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award in 2005 (to support and encourage excellence, artistry, focus, direction, maturity, and originality in the visual arts). Her shows have been reviewed in Younger Than Jesus – the New Museum Catalogue, Art in America, the Village Voice, ArtLovers, Austin Chronicle, Chicago tribune, Reader, Chicago Arts Critics Association, Charleston City Paper, New Haven Register, Platform magazine, Art Etc., Take on Art and Andpersand among other journals and papers. Artist residencies include Mac Dowell Colony- USA, Skowhegan – USA, Djerassi Foundation -USA, Fondazione Pistolleto – Italy, Camargo Foundation – France, CAMAC – France and Sculpture Space – USA. She was a finalist for the Rolex Mentor Protege Award 2014 & the Rijksakademie in 2006
And on the story goes…if you think her bio is amazing, you need to just look at her work…and have your mind blown away. To me art has always been mostly about painting and drawing. But Sumakshi’s work turns the very concept of art on its head, redefining not just art but also the experience of it in more ways than one can imagine. I had the opportunity to visit her "In the Garden" show in Chennai in 2016, and was transported by the magical installation, her exquisite floral embroidery, and her intricate paintings there. When I looked her up online, I realised all of that was but the tip of the indeed was a creative force like I had never come across before. 

As Sumakshi says, “For me, making art has been a way to look at where I am within myself and in the world; to process life, process the big questions about death and grief, beauty and joy, to look at what feels real and how I can go about recognising it. It lets me observe how meaning is constructed in the multi-layered experiences of existence – all these sort of meaty territories that aren’t always, or perhaps almost never, satisfied with a mental answer. 
“I do it because it’s a process of self-discovery, a process of learning, a process of delving deeper and deeper into parts that my conscious mind can’t access. And so for me art making is very much an inner activity. And so being recognized, not being recognized, internationally or nationally, in your city, is ultimately a very small part of it. The good thing about it is that, of course, you have many more opportunities to be able to support and be able to continue this sort of investigation.”
Sumakshi was in fact a very good science student in high school and for a while toyed with the idea of studying to become an astrophysicist. But it was her father, a chemical engineer, who said “I don’t think you should study anything else except art because that’s when you are really lost in your work, you don’t know if the fan is on or off, if you’ve eaten food or not. Since you love it so much just do it. Forget what else you can do, just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should.”
God bless you Sumakshi. I’m sure your family is very proud of you. More power to you and greater glory. Your story has just begun.


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