Meet artist Sujata Bajaj. She lives in Paris, often works on her exquisite creations in multi-media, painting and fibreglass sculptures in Dubai and visits her home in India to exhibit her works. She has been a full-time practising artist for more than 35 years. I happened to review her works in her very first exhibition in Mumbai 35 years ago, covering the show for several print outlets – online postings did not exist then. But the very rooted and unassuming woman that she is, Sujata remembers me after all these years enough to sit down for a long conversation at her recent show exclusively dedicated to Lord Ganesha held in Kolkata.
Dressed in rich ethnic colours with her shawl flowing freely around her, long, black hair adding grace to her personality, her unceasing smile adding to her charm. Sujata is as contemplative when she is working as she is articulate when she is talking about her work. About her definition of art, Sujata says, “art is the result of an urge to create accompanied by a set of technical skills. In abstract painting, the challenge is to create some kind of meaning with elements that do not carry meaning per se. Abstract art is open ended and to some extent “the story is in the eye of the beholder”. I think we all seek meaning and stories when we look at art. We always ask ourselves what the artist is trying to say. In figurative art, the answer is often obvious, in abstract art not so. The spectator participates in the creation of the artistic message. It is a more demanding process but it has its own magic –there are no limits to its interpretations.”
Born in Wadhwa, where her father was a devout Gandhian, educated in Mumbai, Pune, and Paris, Sujata Bajaj has done her Ph.D. in Fine Arts and bagged a scholarship to study art in Paris. She has had around 50 solo exhibitions over the years across the map. She begins her day with lighting a small lamp to a small Ganesha that is her very own and is positioned in a small niche in the kitchen. “My mother gave it to me when I was very young. I am not particularly ritualistic but I do believe that I am spiritual.”
Explaining how she differentiates between her mainstream work in art and her exclusive works on her different manifestations of Lord Ganesha, Sujata says, “It is easy – my Ganeshas are all recognizable as representations of the prototypical form –though the paper works often end up as very distant abstractions of this form – whereas my mainstream work is characterized by pure abstractions with no ambition of evoking any specific recognizable form. I take the lines and curves that are visible in Ganesha’s more traditional/religious representations and apply them to my personal aesthetic, creating a whole new form carrying the energy of the base form without needing to be anywhere close to it in appearance. When it comes to the sculptures, the fiberglass form is fairly figurative. However, the way I apply my paints to the surface, is done in the same manner that I would approach a blank flat canvas.”
Sujata explains that her paintings and her family are her reference points and her day-to-day live adapts itself between them. There are days when she paints and then days when she does not. “The days I paint seem to pass off in a jiffy and I do not even realise that the day is over. The place I live at any given moment does not matter. It could be Delhi or Paris or Dubai or Pune. The days when I am not painting or sculpting on fiberglass, I divide between my daughter Helena and husband Rune and then, visit art exhibitions, keep engagements, or visiting a museum, or just shopping. The business of life does not bother me because as a person, I am quite organized, neat and keep things and jobs in order. I work better when my mind is not cluttered so I see that my home and my workplace are also not cluttered.”
Space and culture-wise too, Sujata has pushed the borders of her life and her art but not her close relationship and rapport with her husband and daughter, her family back home and so on. She says that her global existence has added to her curiosity on the one hand and openness on the other metamorphosing from the global to the glocal. “Each place I go to has had its impact on my work, be it Japan’s cherry blossom trees or the wide plains of the Serengeti or Macchu Picchu. Travel contributes to my creative fuelling tremendously. Besides, I love meeting the local people in different countries, observing their crafts, their culture and their lifestyle and trying to weave some of this into my work. For example, I have incorporated some of these crafts such as a given technique of dyeing, or embroidery, or sculpture, anything in short I find interesting, powerful and inspiring,” she elaborates.
How has the long stay in Paris, the dream city for artists, painters and sculptors across the world played in her work as an artist? Sujata says that Paris had changed her and influenced her positively in many ways. “I would not say just Paris. I think every place you live in leaves a deep imprint on your work and your life. It adds different dimensions to your creativity. As artists, we are particularly prone to influence and inspiration as we love to be in tune with our environment. We notice everything; we pick up little things and details that mean a world to us. India is certainly a backbone of everything I have done and do today.”
Yet, she is insistent that Paris has played a significant role in shaping her as a creative person, making her evolve over the years, not permitting her to remain in stasis or placing mental blocks on her creative self. “Paris, in a manner of speaking, is not about just making things but more about being unapologetically obsessed with all things creative. People pay such great attention to just about everything from the way they dress to the way they plate their food and decorate their homes – it is a great pleasure to be surrounded by such high level of aesthetics at all times. The French are also very curious about foreign cultures, traditions, about art, food, music, dance – they are constantly learning and developing their repertoire of knowledge. This attitude is something I try to incorporate in my lifestyle. I have found that curiosity always leads to great discoveries, which in turn expands my visual vocabulary making me a better artist,” Sujata sums up, beautifully.
Written byShoma A. Chatterji
Dr. Shoma A. Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author based in Kolkata. She has 20 published titles, has won the National Award twice and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rotary Club of Kolkata Metro. She has done her post-doctoral research on cinema and has juried at national and international film festivals over time.