EXHIBITION - Sujata Bajaj (Mar 26-Apr 19, 2008) :


I have known her for close to twenty years, ever since she held her first exhibition in Paris. I believe, as she sometimes reminds me, that I may have been the first to acquire her paintings. It was a time when I had just emerged, dazed, from a long spell of work with Peter Brook on the Mahabharata, and I found in young Sujata the vibrant echoes of that great epic in which India has always sought, and often found, herself.

I couldn't help noting the innumerable resonances the two works stirred in me – the old work and the new, the written and the painted, both born of the same soil. At that moment, it was obviously I who saw and heard these resonances. In the epic, these resonances are violent, even bloody, yet they are also strangely harmonious (or, if you will, harmoniously disquieting).

And so it is in every relationship with a work of art. My impressions – formed as I set my eyes on the paintings of Sujata who belongs to Jaipur in Rajasthan - were inspired by eleven years of work and sojourns in India, of countless encounters, improvisations, conversations, of a profusion of images, stories, colours, movement, even smells, which we had patiently amassed for our production.

In this large river in whose waters I still immerse myself in order to satisfy my curiosity, I found it impossible to discern the place Sujata had carved for herself in the painting of her time. I perceived in her early monotypes - quite apart from a special technique which, it seems, we owe to Degas - a juvenile energy, distant and unique, somehow connected to the cosmos.

In India, however, everything is cosmic. Regardless of what we think, no gesture here is merely human, no word stands alone. Unknown to us, the fundamental notion of dharma knits all our thoughts and actions into the entire universe. And whether or not the universe moves along the right path depends first and foremost on us.

This is especially true if we are artists, spokesmen, mediators. The crucial mission of establishing such a link is central to all of Sujata's work, the key to her approach, and the reason why the book is titled " L'ordre du Monde " [The Order of the World].

It's a strange order, unfamiliar, hidden, that reveals itself slowly through the pathways of chaos, an order that is neither geometric nor balanced, nor even set to a certain motion in time, an order made up of contrasts, of clashes and unexpected echoes, but an order nonetheless.

Real order, perhaps, disguised as disorder, the only one we can claim to approach with the help of certain signposts.

In the work of the young artist I couldn't help noticing - since it leapt up at the most undiscerning eye - a repeated use of archaic Indian writing, as though we had been sent paper messages through cracks in the sky. That was what struck me. Not that I sought to understand their meaning. What intrigued me was their presence, their placement, their arrangement.

I had just learned that according to the most ancient Indian tradition, the first manifestations of what we call life, and which are inextricably linked to language , emerged from the slow movements of an as-yet unformed cosmos; a cosmos that looked for its form and substance in vaguely musical vibrations. Little by little, and in deference to unknown forces, these vibrations were transformed and reorganised into a secret order, giving birth to sounds, then to vowels and words, and finally to the Vedas.

These gradual revelations and modifications place the early texts beyond the pale of any argument, for they are the works of the universe itself.

The first words of the world.

And I was astonished to see that a young artist was suddenly opening doors, and bringing us closer – in however small a way – to the mystery of the world's origins. This is what I had written about her at that time: "There is in the work of Sujata Bajaj a noticeable research into structure, into solid, balanced form and into design and colour. But without her knowing it, fragments of another world - images and writings resembling the remains of a tattered memory – slide into her own."

I so liked this "invasion" that I offered no resistance as it seeped into me. I knew other Indian painters (truth to tell, only a handful, Raza among them), all very different from her. Yet I could never have imagined then that I was gazing at the first steps of a pioneer.

I found it impossible to link Sujata to a "movement" or a "school". I saw her as an exception, a woman to boot, and an Indian. I felt that through her I loved India, that I was, once again, letting myself be seduced by this flexible and infinite, undulating and unpredictable, and particularly secretive country in whose web I had been well and truly caught.

Since this first encounter, contemporary Indian painting has taken flight. Collectors from all over the world, discouraged by the stagnation in Europe and even America, have been heading for Mumbai and Delhi. Publications have multiplied, the value of art works is being assessed, prices are shooting up and museums are opening.

In this changed landscape which is of interest to an increasing number of Indian patrons (with every indication that it will last), Sujata ranks among the frontrunners. Norway, for example, with its cold fog, long nights and clinging whiteness, has been won over by the zeal in her canvases. And Norway is not the only country clamouring for more. New York, Paris and Mumbai are waiting in line. The pioneer has been transformed into a classic.

Something similar happened in the cinema as well. Years ago, we in Europe believed that the cinema we loved, the auteur cinema, the cinema of ambition, beauty and research would disappear definitively under the sustained barrage from Hollywood, where films are regarded as little more than simple products.

We began to despair, to tell ourselves that through the hundred years of its turbulent existence, cinema had come full circle. Now, it could only degenerate and disappear.

That is when Asian filmmakers from Iran, China, Korea, India, Taiwan and Hong Kong came to our rescue and gave us courage. They were taking the same path as we had taken, they liked the same cinema as we did, and they seemed to be saying: "Don't lower your eyes, don't lower your head, for the cinema is still alive."

Of course they were right. And they convinced us. It was easy.

Something similar is happening in the more fragmented and elusive province of painting. We seem to be caught up in it bit by bit, wholly overpowered by the pressure of market ratings, by the cult of "record prices in public auctions", by the pirouettes of an art called "contemporary" (meaning, if words still have a meaning, an art that will not last for long); we feel threatened by the same commercial wave that consigned a large part of American cinema to a public that was adolescent and ignorant – and proud of it – as painters from other parts of the world, and mainly from Asia, arrive on the scene.

Real painters. Painters who paint. Suffice it to look at their work honestly, simply, almost naively, to understand that we are dealing here with a struggle against futility, the hopelessness of painting that leads to emptiness and disdain, the two major temptations of the "contemporary" artist.

It is not because we are assailed every day, every hour, under a heap of images that cinema and painting are dead. Quite the contrary. If it is more difficult today than ever before (and this is true for photographers as well) to make an image, this image - when it comes alive - has a greater force and a greater possibility of survival. For, thanks to the several tormenting impressions we are subjected to, we have become formidable image-sorting machines, in other words, image-forgetting machines. Banal images auto-destruct, passing before our eyes and disappearing even as they are born.

We cannot even discard them, because they discard themselves.

And we haven't really seen them. Invisible by definition, lost in an ever-growing and invasive mass - what with the real growing more and more banal every day - these images were prevented from existing from the very moment they appeared.

A few centuries ago, when we hung four or five engravings on our walls, representing – for whatever they were worth – the earth and the sky (and gods and saints and angels), we retained perhaps one image in five. Today we retain one in a million.

Our sensory limits – those antennae of the brain – force us to choose. But how to choose? And according to what criteria?

The most readily available criterion, the ifallible guide, is obviously money. It is supposed never to go wrong, although history, even the history of painting, proves just the opposite. For the past sixty years, money has enacted its own laws, nourished its own references, and never needed another judge. In all domains, money is both judge and accused. Every year for reasons of its own, it creates its own market and fights to keep up the prices – in short, it maintains itself.
When it makes a mistake, it tries to deny it for as long as it can. Thereafter, when there is nothing left to defend any more, it turns its back on its favourites, and dryly and forever drops the individual whose value it had earlier decreed.
Apart, from money - the great ringleader in the market - all that remains, then, is this secret, indescribable emotion we feel before a painting, before a series of paintings; before a kind of coherence, before a vision controlled by a technique, befre a visible, perceptible, indisputable opening that leads us, despite ourselves, to the beyond, which sweeps us into a second world and then into a third.

Seen thus, the progress of Sujata Bajaj, whose work I have been faithfully following for twenty years, is, in my view, exemplary. She has maintained her vision while expanding it. And her technique has followed this growth. After the early monotypes that she discovered with Claude Viseux, she moved on to mixed techniques, making collages out of paper, silk, bits of rope and burnt cardboard to which she added wax, chalk, gouache, ink – in short, everything that her hand or eye came across.

It took her towards unexpected forms where uncertain fragments seemed, every now and again, to break out of the frame as though they were asking themselves: What am I doing in this painting? Who put me here? And what if I escaped? Where would I go?

Every time we see her work, characterised as it is by a mix of dash and control, we feel it transmits an energy that is akin to a sense of well-being. As against so many exhibitions which harp on the murky, the arid and on a monotonous pathos, we leave this exhibition feeling cheerful. We needed to see it.

We needed to see it because of its predilection for a fragmented message; a message written in an ancient language and coming to us from God knows where, bringing us words that are certainly essential - since they are all about the order of the universe - but which we are unable to decipher.

But it's good to know that the words are there, within reach, within one's range of vision.

With her fondness for enigma, for mystery, for beauty as enigma, Sujata poses questions without asking us for an answer.

And she doesn't provide the answers either.

This colour springs from her as if by surprise. It is her need, her necessity, her deepest nature. It also springs – more hidden, this time – from her native land. When I look upon some of her works, I feel she has invented the colour red. Or even, shades of reds.

And then we have these sudden, inexplicable yet essential spots and white shafts piercing a mass of dark, tangled matter which, until that moment, appeared to be looking for light.
Her unmistakable concern is not to make something new but to make something come alive.

Her preference for openings, for falls, downwards, even upwards (for the sense of movements depends upon us) for other dimensions, perspectives, sensations, for worlds rushing precipitately towards one another, worlds that move, telescope, mingle, disappear and sometimes forget one another.

What you have here are some intimate upheavals: inconclusive battles between earth and sky, the ruins of stars, imperfect circles floating in space as if uncaged, and a few promises – even stealthy ones – of brilliance, of calm, of radiance.

And, to continue with India, we could also evoke the stubborn effort to break through the famous maya - that tissue of illusions which covers our life and deceives us - and try to reach the beyond. But the web is tight, so finely woven, that I will ot hazard my way there for fear of losing myself.

Sujata has reached where she has without abandoning her other forms – mixed techniques, scraps of paper torn out, stuck together and painted over to acrylic on canvas, with no support other than the painting itself. We find fairly developed horizontal or vertical structures that appear call out to a strict composition, as quickly negated and overrun by floods, faults, debris and precipices.

Her motto could read: Leave from someplace to arrive elsewhere.

She is thus, both spontaneous and methodical. She does not make any rough sketches or meticulous preparations for her projects. But she does prepare herself.

She does not seek multiplication in her work.. On the contrary, the more she is in demand, the more slowly she works. She says she would like to be able to see each of her canvases ten or twenty years on without ever having to deny them.

She is a painter – this much is certain. She has not erred on her dharma. Before every empty canvas she waits, watchful, for something irresistible to beckon her.

If it is true that we are made up of millions of atoms, more than the unimaginable numbers of stars in the sky, Sujata's journey is far from over.

For, awaiting her are other abysses, other ascents, other breakthroughs and other infinities.

– Excerpted from the book L’ordre du Monde
written by Jean Claude Carrière and published byAlbin Michel ,Paris.

Need help? For more information on Indian Art, please see our Art Guide. For help with buying through Saffronart please click here. If you have any other questions, please contact us.