Arpita Singh, born in 1937 at Baranagar India was conceivably the first among women artists in India to introduce her domestic world into her pictures—to argue for its validity as a genre. She left her familiar home
in Kolkata and went with her mother and brother to Delhi after she lost her father. Images of this memories
have been a recurring subject in her works—“memories and mappings of dislocations and discoveries, of
nostalgia and pain, of excitement and anxiety. She absorbs the complexities of the world and represents them
in her own distinctive way through the sensuous use of paint and brush”.1 Arpita’s forms are drawn from
thoughts lying dormant within her but always present. The little details from the mundane days spent at her
home—the vibrant colours of her works, the plants on her patio, cushions brimmed with patterns, the chairs,
clocks, rugs and pictures come alive as if talking to each other on their own enchanted world which Arpita
created. For Arpita, the first touch of the tool on the blank canvas is always a terrifying and daunting
challenge. She combines the youthful innocence of folk art and avant-garde sensibility. In most of the artist’s
work, one might notice human figures, each with distinct features, positioned against a background filled
with words, letters and numbers which to the viewer would appear to have no sense at all. The audience’s
view becomes irrelevant as for Arpita, these characters recount the judgement of Best Bakery case which was
an aftermath of the communal riots in Gujarat.
"Just as the printed words and images have an impact on her imagination, so as various elements of visual
culture play upon her. When Arpita was young and had to economize on paper, she would draw on whatever
was available. She made drawings on handouts on printed catalogues making the printed texts automatically
integrated with her images." She was extremely drawn to hoardings, signboards, leaflets and newspapers.
Fascinated by old maps and deeply moved by scenes from films, Arpita renders these in her distinguishing
visual style. Arpita’s works reflects grotesque forms of human figures with ribs and vertebrae exposed, some
with intestines disassembled from its original placement. “These can be determined by two influencing
factors in Arpita’s life when she had been ill and underwent surgery. Her interest in the anatomical details
may have begun then but was subsequently fed by medical manuals with anatomical images supplied to her
by her neurosurgeon friend. And Arpita who devours the printed word and graphic images needless to say
was excited by what she saw. In her earlier works, the artist seemed to be a little girl or brooding woman
negotiating an incomprehensible world by juxtaposing innocent childhood memories and familiar domestic
paraphernalia with menacing forms and figures. In her recent works, she appears to have come to terms with
that world and is managing to establish her control over it. She is stepping out of her domestic interiors and
engaging with a larger arena of life."
"For almost five years, between 1976 and 1981, Arpita Singh worked solely on drawings and variation of the
graphic medium. These drawings, done on paper, are in pencil, in pen and ink, in brush and ink, using the
back stub of the brush, in pastels and spray paint. She even resorted to using vegetable dyes and shikakai
shampoo on paper. When asked to join the artist’s camp at Kasauli, she produced a lithograph that was
almost black and white. The world of Arpita Singh, while it lays no claim to such principles of aesthetics,
deals with analogies. Both her drawings as well as the object of her water colours are metaphors. They
express a mood, a feeling of happiness or joy or fatigue or sadness, a time of day or evening or night, by
referring to it through means of an object; or through the shape the object, its colour, and more recently,
through its texture."
Arpita’s habitual exploration of new situations with familiar tools had once led her to trouble. Arpita was
invited to contribute the cover to the special ‘Puja’ issue of Desh magazine during the early 90s together with
the other artists who had been invited to contribute their version of the goddess—invitations which are
handed out to artists on an annual basis.
"Arpita chose to render her concept of Durga clad in white robes, holding a gun instead of a trisula which
was influenced by her obsession with guns as subjects of her paintings starting on the 80s. The demon lying
below Durga was a man, innocent enough, but wearing white tennis shoes… conceived after the
assassination of Rajiv Ghandi, this picture created shock waves of indignation. After some time spent with
endless critics about this work, Arpita redeemed herself through the woman she painted in her recent works.
Instead of being assailed with flowers and stripes, Arpita’s woman has shed her clothing altogether. She
grows tall, looms large and naked on Arpita’s canvas or paper with limbs that curve and bend with sexuality.
The vibrant strength of womanhood is asserted in the provocative posture of her woman, sometimes with
legs apart. Arpita’s woman saved her, each time changing positions on the canvas, with the minute but vital
details on the background."
"There was a moment when she stepped out from this intimate personal world into the streets and the bazaar
—the world outside. Shadows suddenly begin to project across the door. With the rise of women’s voices and
the Sikh riots of 1984, Arpita personal view of the world, along with everybody else, drastically changed and
it was never same again. The personal become political. In some of her works, goons and bandits dressed in
khaki and brown, corpses covered with white sheets lie mute on the ground against shrieking yellows of cars
and buses swirling around in chaos where integrated. Arpita herself wander into new situations all the time,
in quest of the unexpected. She listens with rapt attention to stories, she watches films, she attends grata
sessions with women, derives substance from their floor patterns and infuses her own fantasy into a woman
sitting a piece of cloth. There would seem to be an analogy here to her own process of working on a picture
when she remarks: ‘The stitches in a ‘kantha’ give body to the limp cloth, give it form. I feel that textures give
strength to my paintings—an added dimension."
Quoted from the book Arpita Singh ‘Printed Postcard’ 2003-2006 written by Ella Datta published by Vadehra Art Gallery in 2006
Excerpts from the book Image and Imagination by Geeti Sen published by Grantha Corporation in cooperation with Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd. in 1996
Excerpt from the article Arpita Singh by Geeti Sen on the book Faces of Indian Art published by Art Alive Gallery in 2007