Arpita Singh

b. 1937 in Baranagar, India
Working in New Delhi, India
Showing at Asia Society Museum
On view October 27, 2020, through February 7, 2021
The Ritual

Arpita Singh, The Ritual, 1989. Oil on canvas. H. 66 x W. 60 in. (167.6 x 152.4 cm). Collection of Mr. Lal Dalamal. Photograph courtesy of RL Fine Arts

Location: Asia Society Museum
Arpita Singh, Amina Kidwai, 1992

Arpita Singh, Amina Kidwai, 1992. Oil on canvas. H. 68 1/2 x W. 62 in. (174 x 157.5 cm). Spectrum Supplies DMCC. Photograph courtesy of RL Fine Arts

Location: Asia Society Museum
Arpita Singh, The Eternal Repose, 1997

Arpita Singh, The Eternal Repose, 1997. Oil on canvas. H. 59 1/2 x W. 66 in. (151.1 x 167.6 cm) . Private Collection. Photograph courtesy of RL Fine Arts 

Location: Asia Society Museum
Arpita Singh, Amina Kidwai, 1992, Spectrum Supplies DMCC

Installation view of Asia Society Triennial: We Do Not Dream Alone at Asia Society Museum, New York, October 27, 2020–June 27, 2021. Arpita Singh, Amina Kidwai, 1992, Spectrum Supplies DMCC. Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2020

Location: Asia Society Museum
From left to right: Arpita Singh, The Eternal Repose, 1997, Private Collection; The Ritual, 1989, Collection of Mr. Lal Dalamal. Photograph: Bruce M. White, 2020

Installation view of Asia Society Triennial: We Do Not Dream Alone at Asia Society Museum, New York, October 27, 2020–June 27, 2021. From left to right: Arpita Singh, The Eternal Repose, 1997, Private Collection; The Ritual, 1989, Collection of Mr. Lal Dalamal. Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2020

Location: Asia Society Museum
 From left to right: Arpita Singh, Amina Kidwai, 1992, Spectrum Supplies DMCC; The Eternal Repose, 1997, Private Collection; The Ritual, 1989, Collection of Mr. Lal Dalamal

Installation view of Asia Society Triennial: We Do Not Dream Alone at Asia Society Museum, New York, October 27, 2020–June 27, 2021. From left to right: Arpita Singh, Amina Kidwai, 1992, Spectrum Supplies DMCC; The Eternal Repose, 1997, Private Collection; The Ritual, 1989, Collection of Mr. Lal Dalamal. Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2020

Location: Asia Society Museum
Natee Utarit, The Dream of Siamese Monks, 2020, Courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist; Arpita Singh, Amina Kidwai, 1992, Spectrum Supplies DMCC; Arpita Singh, The Eternal Repose, 1997, Private Collection; Arpita Singh, The Ritual, 1989, Collection of Mr. Lal Dalamal.

Installation view of Asia Society Triennial: We Do Not Dream Alone at Asia Society Museum, New York, October 27, 2020–June 27, 2021. From left to right: Natee Utarit, The Dream of Siamese Monks, 2020, Courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist; Arpita Singh, Amina Kidwai, 1992, Spectrum Supplies DMCC; Arpita Singh, The Eternal Repose, 1997, Private Collection; Arpita Singh, The Ritual, 1989, Collection of Mr. Lal Dalamal. Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2020

Location: Asia Society Museum

Born in 1937, a decade before the partition of India, Arpita Singh is part of the second wave of modernists, including Rameshwar Broota and Jogen Chowdhury, a group that followed the pioneering artists of the Progressive movement. Singh’s paintings and drawings pay tribute to the joys and sorrows of family life, where tensions and ties often indicate larger social and political formations, outside the family. Frequently executed in heavy impasto and distinguished by the artist’s love of blues and pinks, Singh’s works feature a bright palette and seemingly whimsical imagery that belie darker themes. Her works’ highly decorated surfaces are populated by people she knows: family, friends, and neighbors. These figures are often portrayed surrounded by objects of everyday life, such as teacups, bouquets, and dining utensils.

Singh’s paintings of the late 1980s through the 1990s portray older Indian women with brutal honesty. Many works feature a lone female nude, exposed and floating against a colored background. In The Ritual and The Eternal Repose, the female body dominates the canvas, the rolls and wrinkles of her flesh softening her forms while forcing the viewer to confront her sheer physical reality. The Ritual is particularly enigmatic in composition, with its unexpectedly pink bodies enacting an almost aggressive but undefined ritual. At the right edge of the work, a phrase, “In the beginning the earth was a square,” is overlaid onto a strip of river or ocean and hints at a kind of primordial setting. In The Eternal Repose, Singh renders her female figure at almost the same miniature scale as the domestic objects floating around her. The multi-armed woman reaches toward a series of figures, alluding to the juggling of multiple relationships with family and friends that the modern Indian woman has to maintain. The reclining pose also recalls that of the god Vishnu, the protector, since the modern mother figure has to protect and nurture her family and the domestic realm. In Amina Kidwai, Singh paints a woman who was her neighbor for many years and grew to become a close friend. The work depicts Amina and probably her husband at tea, surrounded by a floating array of plants, flowers, teacups and a teapot, and birds. Amina’s daughter Ayesha was the frequent subject of Singh’s paintings during the 1990s. This younger woman, despite family opposition, married outside her community, bringing to the surface traditional conflicts between religions, cultures, and genders. The artist has spoken of how this family seems to her like a microcosm of contemporary India with not only its diversity but also its fractures.

Supported by Peter Louis and Chandru Ramchandani.