5 contemporary women printmakers in India to know now

Art Radar examines how these artists have reinvented printmaking by bringing their own unique experiences into their practice.

This is the second article in a two-part series on printmaking in Asia. It examines the pathbreaking work of five women artists from India – in their own practice, in teaching, and in establishing an infrastructure to secure a future for the art form.

Click here to read Part 1: What is printmaking? Art Radar explains.

Anupam Sud, ‘Dialogue’, 1984, etching on paper, 50 x 65 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Palette Art Gallery.

Anupam Sud, ‘Dialogue’, 1984, etching on paper, 50 x 65 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Palette Art Gallery.

This article was written by a participant in our art writing diploma programme. Do you want to write for Art Radar too? Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

Printmaking in India, in the first half of the 20th century, was dominated by male artists and was considered a field requiring technical mastery, physical strength, endurance and stamina. It was the pioneering efforts of eminent contemporary women printmakers that challenged the myths surrounding this medium, not only proving that they possessed all these characteristics, but also taking the art form to a higher level.

1. Anupam Sud

Art historian and fellow printmaker Paula Sengupta says (PDF download) of Anupam Sud (b. 1944) in The Printed Picture:

Her […] work tends to focus on the human body and her printmaking technique is uniquely labour-intensive, making her one of India’s foremost practicing printmakers.

After completing an education in Fine Arts in New Delhi and studying printmaking at the Slade School of Art in London, Sud joined Jagmohan Chopra’s  “Group 8” in 1968 to promote printmaking in the country.

Anupam Sud, ‘Value Added Test’, 2007, etching on paper, 62.8 x 93.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Palette Art Gallery.

Anupam Sud, ‘Value Added Test’, 2007, etching on paper, 62.8 x 93.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Palette Art Gallery.

Her distinctive style is often described as “narrative”, although the artist believes that there is sufficient ambiguity and openness in her work that allows onlookers to form their own interpretations.  

Like other women printmakers of her generation, she did not aspire to be purely decorative in her work and instead chose to address interpersonal and social issues faced by the newly forming urban India. Sud uses various intaglio-etching techniques to explore sexuality and identities in her work, especially the non-verbal interrelations between the sexes.

Sud has had solo exhibitions in India, Korea and the United States, and has participated in biennales and triennales in Asia, the Americas and Europe. Her work is on display at the National Gallery of Modern Art (New Delhi) and the Victoria and Albert Museum (London).  

Zarina Hashmi, “Atlas of My World,” 2001, portfolio of six woodcuts with Urdu text printed in black on Kozo paper, edition of 20. Image size: variable, sheet size: 25.5 x 19.5 inches (64.7 x 49.5 cm). © 2001, Zarina Hashmi; Image courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Zarina Hashmi, “Atlas of My World,” 2001, portfolio of six woodcuts with Urdu text printed in black on Kozo paper, edition of 20. Image size: variable, sheet size: 25.5 x 19.5 inches (64.7 x 49.5 cm). © 2001, Zarina Hashmi. Image courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

2. Zarina Hashmi

Zarina Hashmi (b. 1937) was born in Aligarh in India, although she has been living and working in New York for several years. Her early education in mathematics and her interest in architecture reflect in her practice, such as her minimalist use of the line on handmade paper. Zarina (who prefers to use only her first name) is also a formalist in her approach and her focus on structure is evident in her prints which are made using various techniques, including intaglio, woodblock, lithography and silkscreen.

As a Muslim woman born in India but living abroad, her work explores themes surrounding cultural identity, home, displacement, borders, journey and memory. She often creates a series of several prints in order to depict different locales or ideas. Many of her works, such as The Cities Blotted into the Wilderness (2003) and Atlas of my World (2001), focus on geographies, territorial boundaries and terrains, especially those in the midst of political conflicts.

Zarina Hashmi, ‘Letter VII,’ from the portfolio “Letters from Home,” 2004, Portfolio of eight woodblock and metalcut prints on handmade Kozo paper and mounted on Somerset paper, edition of 20, image size: 12 x 9 inches (30.5 x 22.9 cm), sheet size: 22 1/4 x 15 inches (56.5 x 38.1 cm). © 2004, Zarina Hashmi; Image courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Zarina Hashmi, ‘Letter VII,’ from the portfolio “Letters from Home,” 2004, Portfolio of eight woodblock and metalcut prints on handmade Kozo paper and mounted on Somerset paper, edition of 20, image size: 12 x 9 inches (30.5 x 22.9 cm), sheet size: 22 1/4 x 15 inches (56.5 x 38.1 cm). © 2004, Zarina Hashmi. Image courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Zarina has always been fascinated by the possibilities of paper and often uses sculptural elements in her prints by creating textures. She does this by puncturing, scratching, weaving and sewing, in addition to traditionally printing on paper. She also uses calligraphic text in Urdu, her mother tongue, to connect with remembered experiences of childhood.

Her work has been exhibited worldwide and she was one of the four entries representing India in its first participation at the Venice Biennale in 2011. In 2012, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles organised the first retrospective of her work titled “Zarina – Paper Like Skin”, an exhibition that later travelled to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work has been shown in several group exhibitions including the recently concluded Exhibition 1 at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Art in New York in 2017.

Kavita Nayar, ‘Me the Flower’, 2011, Etching on paper, 56 x 76 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Mojarto.

Kavita Nayar, ‘Me the Flower’, 2011, Etching on paper, 56 x 76 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Mojarto.

3. Kavita Nayar

An innovative printmaker, Kavita Nayar (b. 1957), like other contemporary women printmakers, has continuously sought to discover herself through her practice, and to capture emotions and experiences in her works. She expresses her ideas and subject matter using the spirit of nature as a theme, and her mastery of technique is evident in the painterly feel of her prints.

After studying Fine Art at Santiniketan and New Delhi, Nayar was awarded a scholarship by the French Government to study lithography and etchings at Cite International des Arts and Ecole des Beaux Arts in the 1980s. Working under a master printer in serigraphy in Luxembourg and studying further at the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford helped the artist hone her skills. As a result, she is at ease in a variety of techniques and mediums.

The tragic loss of her daughter made Nayar seek refuge in spiritualism and these influences are visible in her recent work, such as in the series “Seeds” (2009-2012), where she explores the meaning of life through the visual vocabulary of flowers and foetuses. In an interview with The Hindu in 2014, the artist said:

I took solace in nature. I was drawn to it automatically. I saw my daughter everywhere, in flowers, petals, leaves and trees.

Kavita Nayar, ‘In My Womb’, 2011, variation in multiple plate intaglio. Image courtesy Mojarto.

Kavita Nayar, ‘In My Womb’, 2011, variation in multiple plate intaglio. Image courtesy the artist and Mojarto.

Nayar has been closely associated with both the Garhi Printmaking Studio and the Indian Printmakers’ Guild. She is also a Trustee of the Kala Sakshi Memorial Trust which gives scholarships to art students. Through these roles, Nayar is a mentor, role model and guide to the younger generation of artists in the country.   

Nayar lives and works in New Delhi. Her works have been exhibited in Europe and Asia and she has held solo shows in the United States, England, Mauritius and India. Nayar’s prints and paintings are in private and public collections worldwide including the National Bibliotheque in Paris, the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, the Frank Museum in Columbus, Ohio and the Panchavati Hall at the Prime Minister’s residence in New Delhi.

Kanchan Chander, ‘Visage’, 1998, Etching on paper, 13 x 14 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Mojarto.

Kanchan Chander, ‘Visage’, 1998, etching on paper, 13 x 14 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Mojarto.

4. Kanchan Chander

Just like other leading women contemporary artists of the country, Kanchan Chander (b. 1957) also faced  the challenge of asserting herself in a field and a medium that had been the playground of her male counterparts for decades. An extremely versatile artist, Chander has studied fine art and printmaking in Germany, India, Chile and France and was a founder member of the Indian Printmakers’ Guild along with Kavita Nayar and Shukla Sawant.

Chander strongly believes that

Art occurs in a social situation – the maker and the art, both are bound by social forces that are instrumental in shaping them. I too am subject to the same law.

Kanchan Chander, ‘Flora and Fauna’, 2015, Etching on paper, 28 x 36 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Mojarto.

Kanchan Chander, ‘Flora and Fauna’, 2015, Etching on paper, 28 x 36 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Mojarto.

As a result of this philosophy, her work is reflective of her own life: its ups and downs, joy and despair. Chander also draws inspiration from the idea of a mythic and divine feminine energy, and often depicts feminine power by using imagery from the Bhoota figures of Karnataka, tribal figures and images of the Shakti cult. In her more recent works like the “Vatsalya” and “Fables Retold” series, she also explores the intensity of the mother-child relationship.

With a number of solo shows in India, Nepal, Japan and Australia to her credit, Chander has also participated in several exhibitions, print shows, triennales and International Print Biennales. Her work is on display at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, the Mumbai International Airport, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Ecole des Beaux Art in Paris and the Fukuoka Art Museum in Japan.

Shukla Sawant, 'Remembering Pandita,' 2009, screen print on tissue paper and acrylic. Image courtesy the artist.

Shukla Sawant, ‘Remembering Pandita,’ 2009, screen print on tissue paper and acrylic. Image courtesy the artist.

5. Shukla Sawant

The youngest among these five artists, Shukla Sawant (b. 1963) works in a variety of media and techniques. In an email to Art Radar, Sawant says that her “printmaking practice is largely
connected to images that are part of a spatial experience”.

She often puts photography, printmaking, sculpture and readymade objects together in order to create the desired impact, even blending them with background music and audio effects in her installations. Examples include her 2009 installation Remembering Pandita, where she used sounds from a printing press, and Desert Islands and Other Texts that used bird calls of seagulls. Sawant thus uses an interventionist’s strategy in her art practice to focus on people who have been deliberately kept out of the mainstream for social and political reasons.

Shukla Sawant, 'Blinding White', 2006, screen print on acrylic, cloth and aural sound piece. Image courtesy the artist.

Shukla Sawant, ‘Blinding White’, 2006, screen print on acrylic, cloth and aural sound piece. Image courtesy the artist.

Sawant first studied painting at the Delhi College of Art, later followed by graphic art, specifically lithography, at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts in Paris. She also completed a second Master’s degree at the Slade School of Art and the Slade Centre for Theoretical Studies on a Commonwealth scholarship programme. She has worked as a teacher and lecturer in the Department of Fine Arts and Art Education at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi and is currently Associate Professor at the School of Art & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Sawant was a founder member of the Indian Printmakers’ Guild and is an active collaborative artist who works with her contemporaries in initiatives such as the KHOJ International Artist’s Association established in 1997, which brings together artists from several countries for workshops and lecture programmes every year. Her first solo show was held at the Delhi Shilpi Chakra Gallery in 1986, and since then she has exhibited extensively in India and abroad.  

Amita Kini-Singh

1877

Click here to read Part 1: What is printmaking? Art Radar explains.

This article was written by a participant in our art writing diploma programme. Do you want to write for Art Radar too? Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

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