Nandita was educated in Lucknow, India and graduated as an electronics engineer. After enjoying a successful career at Proctor & Gamble, she decided to become a full time artist about ten years ago. In 2014 she graduated at the top of her year with a first class BA Honours in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College of Art, London, via LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore. Nandita’s work encompasses sculpture, installation and paintings, exploring the recurring themes of nature, materiality, spirituality and connection within an urban environment. She has shown her work in Australia, Spain and at Sweden’s biennale. She has also had several high profile collaborations and solo shows in Singapore.
Read her interview with us below…
Nature is a key theme in your work, what is your relationship to it?
Being in nature allows me to step outside my day to day urban existence to view it from a broader, more holistic perspective. It also allows me to be still and to experience a deeper sense of connection. New insights come to me in that state and have found their way into my practice in some form or other. Plant life, in particular, inspires me and I have even used plants, seeds, flowers and other organic materials in my installations. Trees and rocks show the marks of decay and the passing of time, which is another topic I am fascinated by.
What are your favourite mediums?
I choose the medium according to how well it allows me to express my thoughts and feelings. I have used dead plants and dried flowers, for example, to demonstrate the cycles of life and ephemerality.
A lot of the processes in my work are organic and there is often a trace of the human body. Despite the built-up environment we have created in our cities, our bodies are still organic. Some of my recent series look like lichen and coral and I often use other materials like sand and resin.
For my sculptural paintings, I often use cloth. I like it because it is a part of everyday life; the interwoven threads of fabric are a reminder of how city life is still intertwined with nature. We may not always be aware of it but our actions and perhaps even our thoughts impact others so, in this way, we too are woven together in a kind of invisible fabric.
Do any particular colours or materials have a specific meaning in your work?
Yes and they vary according to the piece. In one of my works, I used red as inspiration from the life force and resilience of the forests that spring back quickly after being destroyed by bushfires. Red, the colour of fire, then came to represent ideas of resilience and abundance in the face of tragedy as well. I use blue to represent the ideas that the beautiful blue skies in Catalunya, Spain inspired within me. Seeds represent potentiality in my installation work. A seed could be a tree or it might not become anything and remain a small idea. Everything has small beginnings, which I think is an intriguing concept.
How is being an artist different from working in the corporate world?
There are a lot of differences. In many ways the mind set you must have to create meaningful art work is almost the opposite to what is needed to perform well in business. In the corporate world, you set goals and work backwards, whereas now I work in very unstructured ways. Often that works out beyond expectations but sometimes in utter failure and I have to start all over again. Being able to adapt and be patient with each new step is key. It is about having faith and listening to and trusting your inner voice.
What do you get from your career as an artist that you didn’t get from corporate life?
In the corporate environment, there is a given criteria for success. Now I am free to be myself and I have my own measures of success. Art has its own momentum so now I depend less on motivation and more on inspiration. I have an inner need to express myself and see how far I can go.
After graduating, you did two residencies in the Blue Mountains, Australia. What did you learn from them?
My residencies in both Australia and in Spain have been in forest areas. In Australia, the plant life has a kind of rugged, gutsy and wild grace, perhaps from having adapted to the harsh conditions. I was able to immerse myself in nature there and drew and wrote a lot and made huge sketches of plants on whiteboards. I also made a large-scale installation with dead plants from the forest floor, reflecting again on ephemerality and the cycles of life. The contrast to urban life gave me a new perspective; in the city, nature is largely artificial and controlled but in woodland it is wild and free. I felt transported. It was a very spiritual experience.
What do you want people to understand about you through your work?
Art making is a constant search for my own truth and a reflection of my spiritual journey. I try to express it and hope that my work connects with at least a few people that get some level of calm, joy and spirituality from my work and that it moves them in some way. However, how people react is really beyond my control so I don’t think about it too much because it would interfere with my process and authenticity of expression.
What is the creative process you go through?
It is extremely organic. One idea leads to the next, often through the process of working. I do a lot of experimentation and meditation and spending time in nature feed my practice. My research is concerned with how the human mind functions, the processes of creation, Buddhist teachings and also aspects of quantum physics which all seem to converge in many places.
How do you know when a work is completed?
I make space between creating and evaluating. If there is time, I will hang up a work on the wall and spend some time away from it. When come back to it with a clear mind, the answer usually comes to me. I treat my pieces of work as growing forms which is why they are often organic and multi-layered. I also make dynamic and organic shapes off the stretcher for this purpose.
Does your work use India, your home country as a big influence?
I see myself as an international citizen but I sometimes find inspiration in the fabrics of India.
What artist/s or art movements have made a real impact on you and your work?
Joan Mitchell’s abstract paintings inspire me. They have a kind of direct expression and spontaneous emotion. She has also been inspired by plants though more by gardens. Robert Smithson, Richard Long, Giuseppe Penone and Andy Goldsworthy have also influenced me in different ways. I would say particular movements that have inspired me would be the Arte Povera period and the Abstract Expressionism movement.
Do you like talking through your ideas with other people?
I find that conversations are not a pure form of thought and I think it is important to find our own inner truth and make sense of our existence for ourselves. I am also quite introverted but I do find it valuable to discuss ideas with people that I am very close to.
Do you enjoy the company of other artists?
I find it very inspiring because they have the same crazy spirit as me. I do have a lot of artist friends from my residencies too. People who share similar interests go there. You discuss art practices and our connections with nature in depth so you tend to form some very deep bonds.
What do you do if you get blocked or stuck?
I think artists fear that the most. If I get stuck with a piece, I move onto something else and come back to it when inspiration strikes. Going out in nature to sketch can also open up ideas. Another thing I like to do is go to the National Library to levels 7 and 8 and read philosophy and books about the world today. Visiting art shows can really cure the problem too. They can all help me to find a different way back into the practice again.
What are the sorts of challenges you have as an artist?
It depends how you look at it. I’m lucky that I’m doing what I love. Generally, I try to focus on my work and let everything else be itself.
I also have to be aware of my energy and manage that; new ideas excite me and are attached to the process of creating art. If they give joy to others then that is wonderful.
Have you ever felt pressured into delivering a piece of art that is amazing, for a biennale or solo exhibition?
You always try to do your best but good art cannot be forcefully produced. It is a creative expression; whether it is amazing or not, is for the audience to decide. I have only had good experiences working with curators, gallerists and people commissioning artwork. In my experience, people have always been very considerate of the space an artist needs, to do their best work.
What do you think about the current art scene in Singapore
There has been a lot of moaning about how it could be better. These things are beyond my control and I would rather focus on my own practice and let the rest work itself out. One of the most important things that art can do is act as a spiritual conduit. In today’s world, a lot of people are disappointed with religion, so maybe art has a role to play there.
What are you keen to explore next?
I am working on an on-going series called, the Urban Veil, where I deconstruct urban materials and mould them into organic shapes, perhaps as some sort of metaphor for breaking down the belief systems of contemporary urban society that inhibit spirituality. Organic forms represent growth, decay and life force.