A critic and writer once said to me in context of the arts, “It is important to invest in and engage within your generation—a collector must follow artists of their time, and artists should deliberate with writers and curators of their own generation.” This thought has stayed with me ever since, especially when it comes to younger artists who reflect our current times, things that we are experiencing, and issues that are close to our hearts such as ecological imbalance or political polarity.
In context of young contemporary artists of today, few strong themes emerge. Firstly, they are willing to experiment. Rejecting the hegemony of the west or even following in the footsteps of their seniors, their art is void of any baggage of the past. Secondly, there is a renewed focus on skill. Well-executed works, with a strong technical base, seem more common than before. And lastly, the foundational ideas are more rooted in their own traditions, homeland, and immediate environment.
As we start this new year, here is a list of early-career artists that one should look out for:
Also read: Mapping change at the Chennai Photo Biennale
Abhishek Dodiya: a fresh approach to metal
Dodiya is engaged in dismantling and reconstruction in his works. The inspiration often comes from deep observation of his surroundings. “I invite viewers to experience the open-endedness of the surface of my work that revisits lived events, compounded with complexities of emotions,” he says. His Cyclone series is particularly noteworthy, where he has used metal sheets that seem malleable to the softest touch. His documentation of the recent devastating storms in the coastal areas of Gujarat is a grim reminder of the potential impact of climate crisis.
This comes naturally to Dodiya, who lives and works in Bhavnagar (Gujarat), known for its ship-breaking industry. He says that his choice of material and process is heavily influenced by the ‘space, texture, sound, and smell’ of his home town. He completed his masters from the Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda, in 2020. Since then, Dodiya has been awarded by the Gujarat State Lalit Kala Academy and the Prafulla Dahanukar Foundation.
Divya Singh: a relook at memory
Singh’s practice is primarily rooted in paintings that explore themes of isolation and memory. These emanate largely from a poetic engagement with the very idea of ‘time’. “I borrow from disciplines of photography, writing, as well as cinema. These varied elements come together within my work,” she says, and this can be seen most distinctly in the recent artist-books she created. Singh is currently working with instant film/polaroid. Her paintings evoke the same sensibility as that of a period-photograph.
She investigates the idea of time—while oil painting is a slow process, polaroid is instant. Instant photography, initially, was a replacement for drawing. It merely captured the moment that she could reference for her paintings. But gradually Singh's photos began to look like her paintings and vice versa, and she allowed for this cross referencing of qualities to persist. Her art is highly relevant to our contemporary times and encourage viewers to look inwards. Singh completed her Master of Fine Arts from Shiv Nadar University in 2018. She is a recent recipient of the Space118 Fine Arts grant.
Gurjeet Singh: sculptures that tell fresh stories
Singh was introduced to art through his family. “As a child, I saw women of the family always engrossed in decorating the house, stitching and embroidering,” he says. He was involved in all these activities and learnt techniques from his sisters. Singh also helped his father at his scooter repairs shop, which helped him immensely in learning the working of machines.
His stuffed soft-sculptures with textile, and embellished with embroidered patterns, are a response to his surroundings and experiences that have stories and humour. He conveys those by creating imagined characters. Singh’s sculptures revolve around “stories behind closed doors, abuse and neglect, identity and loss, and are often highly personal”. Singh completed his masters with a gold medal from the College of Art, Chandigarh in 2019. He is a recipient of Khoj and Kochi-Muziris Biennale grants and a recent awardee of Inlaks Fine Arts Award and the Amrita Sher-Gil Award.
Koyal Raheja: questioning the systems of the past
In Raheja’s explorations, she poses a question on the conundrum between the body as a living organism and the body that loses its signifying behavioural elements, reduced to a tool, regulated by its mechanical efficiency. Her works elaborate on the behaviours and transfigurations of a docile body that shifts to a dictated one. In a recent series, exploring ideas around gesture, space, and self, she draws figures performing the regulatory gesture of a school assembly, each individual equally distant from one another. Raheja’s ‘bodies’ subsume regimented, lyrical, and minute variations.
“Through my work, I try to question systems and structures of the past and present using different lenses of conformity, rebellion, and separation,” she says. Raheja graduated from the Studio Arts College International, Florence, in 2019. Her works have been part of significant exhibits in Italy and India, including at Cenacolo Fiorentini #8 at the San Marco Museum Library, Florence; Bring into Play at Accaventiquatro Casa Galleria, Prato; and Ghosts of Image(in)Nation at Gallery High Street, Bangalore.
Kumar Misal: shining the spotlight on the farmer
Misal hails from a farmer’s family. His approach to art is based on natural aesthetics that reflect the relationship and significance of nature in rural life. That is visible in the process as well. Misal makes his own paper and often uses mud to stain it. The very surface, therefore, becomes indispensable to him, and being ‘farm-made’, it becomes important to his cause. The artist’s prints evoke the perils of a farmer. He celebrates the act of growing food in a manner that rejects any political undertones. Misal completed his masters from JJ School of Arts, Mumbai in 2020. He has been awarded at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale grant and the Krishna Reddy Award for printmaking.
Sarah Naqvi: a bold take on societal stigmas
Naqvi is a multimedia artist, who engages in narratives themed around religious and societal stigmas. With textiles and embroidery being the primary medium in their practice, Naqvi uses the cathartic nature of the process to address relevant issues of marginalisation. This stems from her education in textiles at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.
“I was a restless child, always creating things but destroying them in the end. That was probably the genesis of the rebel in me,” they say. Their works straddle classical painting, technology, and performance. Naqvi’s creative process is rooted in highly personalised narrative of their experience of the society.
In their recent work titled Blanket of Solidarity, Naqvi uses an image of a quilt of a protestor from the Shaheen Bagh site. It embodies the strength and warmth of resilience, and a hope to protect India’s secular future.
They studied liberal arts at St. Xavier's College, Mumbai in 2018, and is currently participating in the De Ateliers Residency program in Berlin. They were the recipient of 'The Phenomenal she' award conferred by the Indian National Bar Association and NID Ford Foundation Grant.
Sonali Sonam: celebrating beauty in the mundane
Intrigued by the idea of non-static beauty, Sonam observes and draws inspiration from her own surrounding and socio-political scenarios. Her works, influenced by the miniature style, investigate the natural world in the urban. In her view, beauty is not personal, rather it is very much dependent on the spectator, and it changes with time. “I am interested in how a collection of mundane activities can become a new reality, where once we all exist but at the same time it becomes strange to us,” she says. In her recent series titled Re-imagining the mundane, she creates scenes of natural beauty through the flora and fauna in city environment sans anything manmade. Sonam completed her masters from College of Arts, New Delhi in 2021. She received the Shristi AIF Grant, and National and Zonal awards by the Camel Art Foundation.