Society has an age-old habit: of othering women's bodies that don't fit a pre-existing mould. An ideal body type that's imposed aggressively just as women start to exist and anything beyond it is labelled ‘to be fixed.’ Delhi-based Natasha Sachdeva is questioning such ideas and dismissing preposterous ideals through her paintings which celebrate parts of women's bodies that society conditions them to hide.
As someone who has experienced fluctuations in weight which comes with a massive portion of unwanted quips and advice, Sachdeva uses her work to bring more visibility to bodies of different sizes and shapes as a way of normalising them.
“I feel that my work started as something personal and sensitive to me when I was dealing with hormonal imbalance. I have observed my body at different stages and it was a way of reacting to it. Now, I am also trying to explore the weight that cannot be seen or measured: the emotional and mental weight,” Sachdeva tells Lounge.
Earlier this year Sachdeva was shortlisted as one of the ‘Indian women artists to watch for’ at the India Art Fair 2023. Her works have been displayed in many prestigious exhibitions and events such as the annual arts festival First Take 2022 and Art Heritage Gallery in 2020.
Currently, Sachdeva, who is known for her single-subject portraits, is exploring ways of including narratives in her portraits by introducing more subjects such as two women and a man and examining their dynamics.
In Creative Corner this week, Sachdeva talks about her relationship with her studio, keeping herself motivated, and why she once made a portrait of artist Mithu Sen. Edited excerpts.
I'm working at Garhi Lalit Kala Artist Studio (in Delhi), a very old and well-known space for artists. The best part about this place is its closeness to nature. As artists, you need access to silence as well as a place where you can distance and detach from the world. This studio helps me do that. It also has the aura of many great artists who have worked here previously such as Manjeet Bawa, Arpita Singh and Mrinalini Mukherjee.
My studio has a big window and the natural light takes over the room, which is important for me. It’s something I look for in a workplace.
It’s a place where I can let my ideas and experiments take over. No matter what is going on, if I don’t come to the studio and paint, I feel a void. It centres me in a way. It’s also the place where I’m very disciplined. In my paintings, I keep the background white so I have to be very careful to make sure my workplace is not messy. I have a very sensitive relationship with my studio space and all the things are organised well, you’ll never see anything lying around haphazardly. Before this, I used to work at my home. But, at home, you cannot completely detach from the outside world. Also, as I focus on portraits, the journey of stepping out of home, taking the metro and observing different people can spark ideas.
Also, my old and new works are displayed in my studio because I think it helps in getting a sense of how your work is growing and your evolution as an artist. There are times when your mind can trick you into feeling that you have achieved nothing. Having some of your work and accomplishments displayed at your workplace can help quieten such intrusive thoughts.
One of the biggest turning points in my life happened in this studio. In early 2021, we had some surprise visitors at Lalit Kala. The French Ambassador to India had come down to select artists for the third edition of the Night of Ideas event, held at Purana Qila, Delhi.
The event celebrates the exchange of ideas between countries and cultures on different topics. My work was selected for the event and I was asked to make a video presentation on a theme, which was a big honour. I have also done a big press interview in the studio which was when people started recognising my work, which is important for any artist--for people to pause and see.
I think if you don’t move then you can get stuck in one place. As an artist, I want to explore different places and change my workplace as a way of refreshing my mind. I also want to have a spacious studio which I can call my own. With big ceilings, white décor, and a lot of natural light. I have imagined this many times and it’s something I’m working towards.
I have a little canvas that has been with me for the last four years. It’s incomplete and I think it will remain that way. I work with watercolours, that’s my medium. But a few years ago, when I got a bit bored, I picked up oil paints and got this canvas to change it up a bit. It didn’t really go as planned; I got detached in the middle and now, it’s just there, on display but incomplete.
I think when I was in college, I was really inspired by Mithu Sen’s work. She's a contemporary artist, and her work is very interesting. The boldness in her work is something that appealed to me. I used to follow her work a lot and sometimes, when you are too invested in an artist, it can start reflecting in your work.
I also painted a portrait of her when I sent it to her. She really liked it. It was my way of letting her know of the influence she had on me.
In college, you are supposed to work with different mediums to learn the skill But I fell in love with watercolours when I started painting. Often people say it’s one of the toughest mediums to work with but I feel a different kind of joy when I work with it. Over the years, the quality of watercolours and canvas has changed for the better but the happiness I have felt while doing it has been the same.
While using watercolours, you are not supposed to use white and instead leave the paper blank but I remember during my graduation, it was one of the first times I played with it freely and I used white and black while making a portrait. My teacher appreciated how I had done and it was then I started making portraits.