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How Sumakshi Singh uses thread to mark memories

Sumakshi Singh’s recent work features thread renderings of her family’s erstwhile home

Untitled, thread and lace drawing, 2023
Untitled, thread and lace drawing, 2023

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Artist Sumakshi Singh’s ongoing solo, Afterlife, at the Delhi gallery Exhibit 320 emphasises mark-making through thread. One could call the works on display sculptures but Singh’s art does not entrap volume; rather, her work implies it, with the viewer’s body encountering it as an apparition rather than an object. “Like most drawings that invite viewers to look not just at them, but through them, to the raw, unaltered background (paper/canvas), my works too have a sense of transparency and an acknowledgment of the background. They use thread as a mark-making tool in the air, offering access to the space behind,” she explains. For Singh, the art form has become a process of “drawing out” from within. In this show, she uses it to show the vulnerability of the material form, and as an expression of loss and the search for “home”.

Singh is now focused on creating a series of architectural interventions inspired by specific periods of Indian art history. Her recent work features thread renderings of her family’s erstwhile home. She says, “The work, around the loss of my family home at 33, Link Road, Delhi, started off four years ago. These were labyrinthine installations—controlled, measured replicas—of architectural details from the house made in pure white thread. In my recent work, while the facades retain their architectural shape and integrity in a few areas, they appear to collapse, unravel, fold or sag—in other words, give way to their materiality.”

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The artist investigates “conditioned ways of thinking”—when we take certain ideas as given and don’t question them. We know how our body feels and changes when it interacts with certain objects—for example, we walk along a wall, through a door and around a table. We don’t try to move through a wall.

These are the mental models we carry to keep the world feeling familiar. In some work, however, quotidian forms like doors, windows and stairs can be perceived but they are presented in a way in which they haven’t yet committed to the laws of physics. “They might defy gravity, or they may hover like a transparent, ethereal blueprint, or their form might break into illusion and one can walk right through it, or the embroidered shadows become more substantial than the form—they exist in a world which hasn’t yet been codified by our perceptions,” says Singh.

In Afterlife, she has presented works that are not bound by the confines of the frame. They seem both liberated and vulnerable at the same time. Singh uses material with care. All the objects add to metaphorical references, even when used as supporting props. “While no material is neutral, some are less charged than others,” she adds. Singh sees the thread as the building block of the form, the artwork, but also the residue of the form itself. It is both past and future—the before and the after. The work is about insubstantiality and what is more insubstantial than the shadow of a shadow?

Afterlife is on view at Exhibit 320, Delhi, till 2 March.

Rahul Kumar is a Gurugram-based culture writer and artist.

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