Sujata Bajaj is a global artist who began her creative journey in the field of fine arts and sculpture more than 35 years ago. Born in Wadhwa where her father was a devout Gandhian, educated in Mumbai, Pune, and Paris, she did her PhD in fine arts and got a scholarship to study art in Paris. She has had around 50 exhibitions down the years.
She now travels between Paris, Dubai, Pune and Mumbai and to cities where her exhibitions take her. In this sense, she is global in her fluid existence and international in her reputation and talent as an artist par excellence. Bajaj is married to Rune Jui Larsen, a Norwegian and the couple have a daughter, Helena Bajaj Larsen.
She was recently in Kolkata to exhibit just a slice of her massive work on and around Ganesha who happens to be a subject she never tires of exploring. She is extremely grounded and articulate. Excerpts from an interview:
Q. As an artist in multimedia and in different forays and subjects, how do you define Ganesha — creatively, aesthetically, or just as one of the Gods in the Hindu pantheon?
Ganesha has always for me stood out not only because of his attributes — God of wisdom, creativity but as much for his loveable shape half human half animal. His form is an accident, as the story tells us it is — far from the perfection of other divine figures like Krishna.
Ganesha’s surreal appearance gives the artist the right to twist the representations we have seen of him in every which way and thereby create an intimate and personal relationship with him.
This is the essence of my life long endeavour with Ganesha. It is an artistic, abstract take on an icon of our Indian culture. It has helped of course that his message speaks profoundly to me on a personal level.
Q. What does Ganesha stand for you as an artist and a person?
Ganesha is a concept, not a turning point in my journey as an artist for more than three decades. It has been a lifelong dedication and passion to express myself through Ganesha and Ganesha through myself. I know this is difficult to garner but that is how it is and has been.
He is not my mainstream work but he lives all the time, like an undercurrent just beneath the main work, surfacing time and again for me to pick up where I left off. But I have never really “left of” if you understand what I mean. My first in my series of exhibitions of my works on and around Ganesha happened at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai in 2012.
So far as my mindset is concerned, as an artist and as a person, Ganesha is infinite, endless. He bestows on me a feeling of complete freedom that empowers me to abstract his image and give it different artistic forms, colours, textures and media. Creating Ganesha as a form of self-expression is actually an introspective insight into myself.
Q. But there must have been a beginning of this long and varied journey?
The beginning in my mind not as an artiste was much before I exhibited Ganesha for the first time in the public domain. In 2008, Tarana Khubchandani of Gallery Art & Soul in Mumbai brought an eminent collector, Shripal Morakhia, to visit me in my Paris studio. He had heard about my drawings, and upon seeing them, offered to buy them all, as he had a special interest in art works depicting Ganapati.
I explained to him that the works were not for sale. These drawings, for me, are personal, inseparable from my life. He then requested me to make a new body of work on condition that I would show them first to him.
Tarana added that her gallery would support and showcase the project. The project of a major Ganapati exhibition was born. My husband Rune and my nephew Nirad Mehta had been telling that I must do something seriously but it all catalysed into concretion after 2008.
Q. Space and culture-wise too, you have pushed the borders of your life and your art. You are a global citizen, married to a Norwegian, living in Paris and Dubai and Mumbai and speaking fluently in several languages Indian and not Indian. In what way do you think has this global identity influenced your art?
It has contributed to the curiosity and openness of mind. I am Indian to the core and people are often surprised at how much I have remained so even after having lived abroad for so long and being married to a foreigner.
At the same time, each place I go to has its impact on my work — be it Japan’s cherry blossom trees or the wide plains of the Serengeti or Macchu Picchu, travel contributes to my creative re-fuelling in every way.
I also love meeting locals in different countries and seeing their craft traditions as well as trying out some of them be it a dye technique, embroidery, sculpture, anything I find interesting and exciting.
Q. How would you define yourself as an artist?
Artists technically encompass musicians, designers, cooks. But if you want my frank comment, as an artist, I seek to express something with my art without thinking of the effect the art work would have in the market place. That being said, I like to remain free from any labelling.