The protagonists of her art are usually vibrating with feminine energy, “mediating between the human and the divine”, she says. And with age, Rini Dhumal’s artwork has become even more contemplative, portraying a deep serenity. Abir Pothi speaks to the prolific artist
At the age of 73, Rini Dhumal is a name of renown in the worlds of printmaking and painting. And yet, the artist’s insatiable quest to grow her mastery of the visual language and nurture the philosophy that manifests into her art does not seem to cease. Her works are an uninhibited celebration of both the potential and challenges that varied multimedia and techniques bring to the table, and Dhumal continues to dabble in this diversity. Speaking to Abir Pothi, she muses, “My most recent book, ‘Parallel Wings’ (her third coffee table book), reflects the diversity of mediums in which I have been involved — painting, serigraph, sculpture, tapestry, ceramics, drawings, glass painting, etc. While still a student in the 1960s at The Faculty of Fine Arts (under Maharaja Sayajirao or MS University of Baroda, one of the major art colleges of India), I was exposed to different mediums besides just painting. Here, teachers and students came together to create art objects that were not from normal classroom teaching, like batik, toy-making and more. These experiences gave me the possibility of handling many mediums.”
She adds, “There is a similar thread running across — each speaks in the language of the medium.”
This commonality translates into a range of select themes that seem to recur in her fascinating artworks — “myths and dreams, images from reality and the subconscious, with symbolic references, flying females associated with sexual desires, trees, fruits, etc.,” as she herself has stated in the past.
The female form, in particular, is a motif of prominence. Dhumal shares, “The Shakti or woman power has been one of the dominant themes through my formative years, and still persists today, bringing in all that I have seen and experienced. Ordinary women and other characters are transformed into divinities.” And, as such, goddesses and feminine themes adorn her art — critics have anointed their depictions as “matriarchal”, “lonely” yet “powerful” and “evoking compassion with confidence”.
This multifarious, stunning work by Dhumal has been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions at Delhi, Mumbai, Baroda, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad in India and overseas at Paris, Chile, Germany, Tokyo, Spain and Tokyo. Her journey began humbly, when Dhumal was born in 1948 in Rongpur, Bangladesh — the year after India obtained Independence. In 1972, she acquired her Masters in Fine Arts (Painting) degree from MS University. She has collected a cornucopia of recognition and awards along the way, and worked with names like Professor KG Subramanyan, as well Sir SW Hayter of ‘Atelier 17’ in Paris; she also received tutelage from artists Krishna Reddy and Somnath Hore, and spent time at cultural epicentre Shantiniketan in West Bengal. Over the decades, she has been widely hailed for catapulting printmaking into the mainstream, vis-a-vis painting or sculpture.
Along this prolific trajectory, when asked what has helped define the artist she has become today, Dhumal contemplates, “Every creative person is aware of the situation and influences that have shaped them into a creative individual. History, civilization, culture social surroundings all play a part in the evolution of one’s ideas and thoughts, which gets reflected in the artistic creativity. My artistic journey is no different. The living tradition exists all around us. One is susceptible to things around and their influences. These become resources for one’s artistic pursuit — resources in terms of myths and images in ancient temple architecture or manuscripts. I have grown up with tradition and ritual since childhood, exposed to the cultural vocabulary of the female form and its diverse manifestation. These images have, in the course of time, become my protagonist, mediating between the human and the divine.”
Harmoniously straddling the dichotomies of the familiar and the phantasmagorical, Dhumal’s artworks are redolent of earthiness, and like fables unto themselves. And yet, while drawing inspiration from the intangible, Dhumal’s art has also rooted for real issues. Over the years, her oeuvre has rallied for many a cause, from breast cancer to environmental conservation. She explains, “Giving your art such a cause gives you an inner satisfaction. The present COVID situation makes you realize how valuable human beings are and how helpless in front of nature. Artists are always at the forefront of fighting these issues. We humans have brought this disaster upon ourselves. I would like to be preoccupied with the environment, issues related to pollution, conserving water, growing trees, maybe by drawing and painting to send out a message.”
Further reflecting on the crisis of unprecedented scale surrounding us at the moment, the artist professes, “The pandemic has affected half of the world population — young and old. There have been so many deaths all around. One can’t really paint one’s regular images. They reflect the sadness inside me and I pray for happiness and peace.”
Does the Covid-induced shift to a more digital interaction, even in the world of art, appear as a new challenge or a seamless shift? In response to this query, Dhumal is more sanguine. “As I have stated earlier, I draw a lot and don’t use online tools. My hands have become my tools and create images. The digital shift is a positive step for some artists, who are used to this technique. Working from home is the best answer during these hard times — but for artists and writers, WFH home is normal! They are used to the quietness around, and can concentrate on what they create.”
Speaking from a pedestal of rich experience, she gently sums up, “As one grows in fibre and experience, most creative people would like to move inwards towards one’s self and identity; to question ourselves to be able to evolve one’s own language. My later works are more contemplative and portray a deep serenity. Age also makes one more spiritual in mind and body, which comes from within. In that sense, yes, my works are spiritual.”