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Arpita Singh's Wish Dream


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
A stunning mural made up of sixteen individual canvas panels by one of India's most prominent and critically acclaimed women artists – Arpita Singh – titled ‘Wish Dream’, achieved a record price for the artist, fetching an astounding $2.24 million, at the Winter Online Art Auction by Saffronart, the world’s largest online fine-art auction house. This is also the highest price achieved by an Indian woman artist at auction globally, and a world record price for an artwork sold at any online auction.

Born in 1937, Arpita Singh’s deep and complex oeuvre, spanning more than four decades, is informed by and addresses the multiple histories she has witnessed and narratives she has played a part in developing, ranging from the personal to the national. Additionally, Singh’s body of figurative work is frequently inspired by the private and public lives of women, particularly her own, and by the external events that have an effect on them. Like these lives, her dense, multilayered canvases defy any single interpretation.

The present lot, a monumental mural made up of sixteen individual canvas panels, is titled ‘Wish Dream’, and is the largest work created by the artist to date. Initially commissioned as a site specific project, this vivid painting found its genesis in a Tibetan play that the artist happened to be lent, in which she came across the phrase ‘wish dream’. Connecting these words with the concerns that have animated her work over the past few decades, Singh chose to focus on the subtle or understated ways in which women wield power, particularly in relation to rituals and the generation of life. Offering a nod to her source of inspiration, this work also reflects Buddhist monastic traditions in the importance that repetition plays in its imagery and design.

Executed in a vibrant palette of blues, pinks and yellows, the sixteen canvases of varying dimensions are strewn with floating flowers, vines and numbers, fragments of text, various aircraft and cars, billowing bedspreads, and nun-like female figures clad in blue, pink and white robes. Anchoring the work, however, are its two main figures, both middle-aged women who have been elevated to goddess like beings with oracular powers, and who seem to hold together and direct the rest of the painting’s diverse cast of characters and objects. Floating on cloud-like mattresses, it is these figures’ wishes and dreams that this set of sixteen canvasses brings to life for the viewer, simultaneously referring to specific lived experiences and memories, the idea of timelessness, and the unforgiving passage of time.

Drawing on familiar motifs and characters like cars, airplanes, guns and the figure of a boxer, which have appeared and reappeared in several of her works, the artist speaks of journeys that have been undertaken bringing people into and out of the protagonists’ lives, and the violence that time and aging have wreaked on their bodies, desires, aspirations and experiences. Evolving from the woman seated at the foot of the mural, Singh describes the creation of this work as an almost organic process, where each image and canvas panel unfolded from the one before it, in an ascent from the base to the apex.
Arpita Singh

Speaking about this work, art critic Uma Nair notes, “Arpita’s hallmark is her understanding of the power and poignancy of impulses; the sweep of colour begins with blue at the bottom and changes to a brilliant golden hue that speaks of ascension. The aeroplane suggests the power of destiny that brings about the inevitable, but what remains like a reverie is the memory of the associations. The flowers that lie scattered along the passage of time, have a diaphanous translucency about them, it is indeed apparent that she has learnt assiduously the craft of painting in rhythm because of her old association with textiles. While the flowers strewn along the entire border echo her understanding of the textile idiom, and the metaphoric valence of the intricate borders on the sari, it is as if the people who invade her canvasses speak of both indigenous as well as feminine tropes. The figures of the women should be read from the bottom all the way to the top, they reflect thematic concerns that are both spiritual as well as sensorial” (“Canticle of Colour”, unpublished, 2005).

Arpita Singh received her diploma in Fine Arts at the Delhi Polytechnic before taking up the job of a designer at the Weaver's Service Centres in Kolkata and New Delhi. Each of Arpita Singh’s drawings, watercolours on paper, and oils on canvas has a story to tell. To simply say that this renowned artist’s work is narrative would be a gross understatement. Afflicted by the problems that are faced each and every day by women in her country and the world in general, Singh paints the range of emotions that she exchanges with these subjects – from sorrow to joy and from suffering to hope – providing a view of the ongoing communication she maintains with them.

The artist lives and works in New Delhi.



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