A well-known figure within contemporary Indian art, Rekha Rodwittiya rose to prominence internationally through the Eighties and Nineties with her forceful, vibrantly colored and idiosyncratic depictions of female forms and rituals.
The product of a liberal, middle class, highly educated cross-cultural household – her father was a Parsi and her mother a Roman Catholic from South India – since the 1970s Rodwittiya has forged her own distinctive artistic language. This too is a radical mingling: of Mughal painting from Persia and India, of folk art from the Indian subcontinent and of western traditions absorbed from books, travels and her time as a student at London’s Royal College of Art in the early 1980s. The vital thread, however, linking her work, is its celebration of female strength, even in vulnerability.
This autumn a new show of her work opens at Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai. Sixty this year, Rodwittiya’s most recent works incorporate autobiographical photographs and printed images with watercolor and acrylic paint. For some pictures, Rodwittiya reconceives an image from earlier in her career, building up an interior hinterland of elusive symbols and photographic images within the original bounding line. As such, they take her back to her formative years, at the renowned Faculty of Fine Arts at Baroda University.
A solitary child, home-schooled until the age of seven, painting and drawing had offered a potent release for her vivid imagination. At art school, however, under the inspiring teacher KG Subramanyan, Rodwittiya was encouraged to experiment across media, including photography. She remembers: “I would wander around Baroda taking photographs of street life.” She was fortunate to be part of a great movement of proudly self-confident experimentation and renewal of figurative painting in India.
Rodwittiya rejects the term “feminist artist” but she is, she agrees, undoubtedly both a feminist and an artist. As she puts it, “I live and breathe as a feminist so therefore that is the prism through which I perceive everything around me, and so therefore it would patina my art as well.”
Rekha@Sixty: Transient Worlds of Belonging, an exhibition of new works by Rekha Rodwittiya, runs from October 31, 2018 at the Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai
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