Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Dhu al-Qaadah 9, 1445 H
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When birds became muses


Mynas, pigeons, sparrows, spotted falcons and parrots were her friends during the recent lockdown. An Indian artist based in Muscat could not help notice these birds closely.

The birds brought forth joy to Debjani Bhardwaj during those trying times. A visual storyteller, she went on to trace the impressions of these birds in paper cuts on fragile banana fibre paper.

Debjani loves to work with fragile mediums like paper or clay using laborious processes like hand cutting and hand building.

“Whether I need an emotional lift due to my inability to go outdoors, or in desperate need of distraction I looked no further than my studio window.”

Calling herself a paper surgeon and ceramicist, Debjani’s kiln in her studio is used for firing clay pieces and uses paper and clay which are ubiquitous and frugal but easily accessible.

Debjani’s work deals with stories and narratives. She explains her liking towards the physicality in using her hands. This can be drawing, cutting, tearing, pasting, bleaching, and bending, boiling, bandaging, piercing, slicing or pressing. Both ceramics and paper cutting connect her with the need to make use of her hands to escape the mountains of digitally rendered or mass produced objects.

Debjani says the transformative nature of cutting into and through a ubiquitous, sparse surface like paper using minimal material like a blade or molding a clump of clay provides endless possibilities for converting the material from opaque to transparent, from flat to sculptural, from rigid to delicate, and from ordinary to exquisite.

“I love this process of making with my hand which helps me embrace chance, randomness and the relinquishing of control. I do it to find out what the unknown outcome would be. Making it by hand allows me to think with my hands.”

Both paper and clay are laborious and fragile mediums and working with them requires a certain humility and loss of control which she embraces.

“I like the idea that paper and clay have a life and mind of their own. I feel inanimate objects have secret lives, motivations and intentions. In a way, I am a passive onlooker in the birth of new work. There is only a certain degree of free will an artist has in order to complete a paper cut or a clay piece. These materials can tear or snap or crack or break during the making process. I like the challenge of seeing it through till the end like running in a lemon and spoon race,” Debjani explains.

Recently she completed a shadow puppet show of an Omani folk tale ‘Halimah and the Snake’ for the Embassy of the Republic of South Korea. This was showcased to Korean audiences who are interested to learn more about Omani culture.

She is also working on a book project with illustrations of Omani proverbs. Her other upcoming projects are installation of slip cast Arabic perfume bottles titled ‘Bait al Attar,’ which has been selected for Ajam Tourism’s first art fair Al Murrabba Arts Festival in October.

Raised in India listening to ancient epic Hindu mythological tales from the Ramayana and Mahabharata, Debjani is an avid reader of Hans Christian Anderson and Grimm’s fairy tales.

As a child, she was intrigued by the alternate universes these stories created and wondered what they really meant at a deeper level. As an artist now they continue to spill into her drawings. Since the stories deal with the human experience, they are valid even to this day and she likes to bring these characters to the modern world and place them in a contemporary context. After working in the corporate sector for eight years, she realised her true calling was art and quit a lucrative career towards an artistic adventure.

“I wake up each morning excited to work in my studio and intensely love what I do. I am glad I took the decision even though it seemed like a risky proposition at that time,” she contends. Debjani recently completed her Masters in Fine Arts from University for the Creative Arts, UK.

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