Get to know SqW:Lab 2018 fellows – today we speak to artist, Sutapa Biswas.
Where can you be found?
I’m based in London, UK.
When Night Comes, Sutapa Biswas
Tell us about a creative action you have taken this week.
I visited the Dorothea Lange exhibition ‘Politics of Seeing’ at the Barbican, London. I’ve long admired her work since I came across it an an undergraduate student in Fine Art and Art History, and this show seems incredibly relevant to our times. It was beautifully curated. Seeing Lange’s work so thoughtfully contextualised alongside the archival material from Lange’s various collaborations – for example with the author John Steinbeck, author of ‘Grapes of Wrath’ – lent nuance which made this a phenomenal exhibition.
What does ‘home’ mean to you?
‘Home’ means so many different things for me. London, UK, is my geographic home. It’s the complex city in which I was nurtured from the age of about 5 to 18 when I then went to Leeds (UK), to study before finally returning back to London where I currently live again. Of course, in between I’ve spent extended periods of time living in other places, and when I return to those places, sometimes that also feels like ‘home’. But like all my four siblings, I was born in Santinekethan, India, where my father had taught at one of the universities and was based at the time. In my mind’s eye, it’s the first place I encountered trees, forests, and the love of my family – in particular my grandmother on my father’s side. So this too means ‘home’. Leaving India was not a choice for me or for my family at a complicated time in India’s post-independent history. Home in an ideal sense is perhaps a place that one imagines you can be at peace with oneself. For so many people there is a restlessness consequence of the violence of recent global histories. As such it seems that there is always a searching for home.
What was the last thing you drew?
The last thing I drew was an image of one of the photographs by Dorothea Lange, which I encountered at her exhibition that I mentioned earlier I had visited in London this week. The portrait is an historic record of a mother who is a refugee from the American dust bowl. The title of the work is ‘Drought Refugees from Oklahoma Camping by The Roadside (august 1936). Visitors to Lange’s exhibition were not permitted to take photographs, and I was so moved by what I saw, I felt compelled to stop and make a sketch of this work. Lange’s photographic image portrays a young woman in dishevelled clothing feeding her young infant. Both she and her child look directly back at the viewer, but it’s the mother’s gaze back at the camera that is so haunting. As if she is looking straight at the government who had commissioned Lange’s reportage. The look of desperation in her face stopped me in my tracks and brought me to tears.
Tell us about 2 of your most subtle influences.
This is a really good question, which I like because you have to think very hard about what it is that moves you through life as if it’s an invisible but hugely present force. It’s difficult to choose just two subtle influences. But if I really think hard, its perhaps my becoming a mother and through this re-learning what it is that connects me to the world. The second subtle influence is perhaps sound. And if I can list a third subtle influence, it would perhaps be light. All three things are embodied in the art and film that most ‘sits’ in my body.
Please share your thoughts / a few words about your expectations of the SqW:Lab fellowship, of being in Mumbai and the project in total.
I’m very honoured to be invited to participate in this SqW:Lab fellowship. I haven’t been to Mumbai for a number of years. Consequently, I am looking forward to being back in India and having time to reflect on some research that I have been doing for a while relating to the Dutch East India Company. Moreover, I am delighted to spend time in a geographic location that was the last place my family and I had departed from India in the 1960s. I am looking forward to making new art works on site in relation to this research and subject (I hope). I also look forward to an exciting dialogue and exchange with my fellow participants and of course with our hosts.