This work by Remen Chopra W. Van der Vaart is titled To what shore would you cross.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
This fall, 1x1 Art Gallery, Alserkal, Dubai, is presenting a solo exhibition of the multidisciplinary Indian artist Remen Chopra W. Van der Vaart (b. 1980).
Titled In these verses I find home (Sept. 28 â€” Oct. 31), it is the artistâ€™s first solo show in Dubai. The exhibition presents multimedia works made using photography, drawing, sculpture, textile and wood to reflect upon stories and histories of migration, time, our relationship with nature and the environment.
Remenâ€™s works are a unique assemblage of intimate moments, poetry and personal objects that were passed on matrilineally, from one generation to the other. She explores the cartography of memory and the non-linearity of both narratives and time. Through her work, she journeys to sites of memories, evoking personal spaces, her relationship with the landscape - and always returns to the maternal source.
The maternal source is the grandmother â€” from whose archives she reads the city, the story, the memory and the object. The maternal source also of the Earth is looked into. The artist explores the idea of Earth as feminine, a sacred space of belonging.
The concept manifests itself from a micro level of personal spaces that evoke the memories of home, to the macro level of the earth, which we call home. â€œHomeâ€ serves as the leitmotiv in oneâ€™s history, identity and sense of belonging. The structure that houses us becomes a reflection of our personal, ideological and cultural pasts.
It forms our notions of comfort and stability â€“ we build our homes and ultimately, our homes build us. Remen is inspired by architecture and constructs complex monochromatic, performance-based montages that draw significantly from the aesthetics of theatre.
She meticulously layers photographs and drawings with glass or mulmul, which capture fleeting moments in time. The figures are staged, sometimes in transition, evoking a sense of mystery as well as nostalgia. The use of light, symmetry, geometry and patterns, play a key role in Remenâ€™s artistic practice.
The feminine form sees a strong presence in her world of nostalgia, represented as figures or abstracted as undulating landscapes, capturing ideas of regeneration, nurture and balance. One of the works, To what shore would you cross, (created in 2020, carpet and recycled wood) draws on the rich symbolism of an heirloom carpet that has been passed on matrilineally from one generation to the other.
Remen overlays it with a sculptural imaginary topographic landscape that captures ideas of travel and lineage and rootedness. The artist questions: â€œHow do we relate to our mothers and grandmothers through objects?â€ The knots of the carpet are interwoven with the passage of time, along with the spaces it has journeyed.
In Imaginary landscapes: Shimla, Rawalpindi (composed in 2020, recycled wood), the artist draws inspiration from the family stories of Shimla and Rawalpindi, as narrated to her by her grandmother, to produce the artwork. It explores the cartography of memory and how non-linear narratives are fabricated out of scattered fragments.
The artist has mapped the history of these spaces by creating imaginary topographic maps to explore personal recollections as well as a feeling of dislocation. The artwork raises the question of â€œhow memories are embedded within the landscape and how spoken words hold landscapes for us togetherâ€.
Wordless wonder II (made in 2019, graphite, pen and photograph on archival paper) is an artwork where the artist has mapped patterns that create a picture of a moving space and its components that define exchanges. The work communicates an idea of a lived time and symbolises a place of refuge. Through it, Remen urges us to question: â€œHow do form, order and patterns serve as lifelines that ground us and make us feel safe?â€
In an interview to Platform magazine, Remen said that â€œit becomes important for me as an artist that my works speak of an applicable root, and in conserving it as a nostalgic memory. I believe that traditions and beliefs comprise the history of our family and community, and are our heritage that is passed on to us becomes a lens to the world around us â€” which is constantly being reflected in oneâ€™s findings and experiences which tend to shape oneâ€™s imagery.
â€œThe diverse cultural heritage allowed me to explore the layered histories and uncover these layers through a selective process of memory.â€ Indulge Express has said that â€œshe traces the history of objects and spaces which (were) once lived, through multi-layered artworks that create contrasts of real and endorsed time. She delves into the history of personal spaces and its memory using writings, maps, objects, poetry and sculptural works to respond to the emotion and idea of home.â€
Remen was born in 1980 in New Delhi, and received her Bachelors and Masters degrees in Painting from the College of Art, New Delhi. In 2001, she studied Art History and Language in Siena, through an Italian Cultural Exchange Program and in 2003, she completed a Diploma course in photography from the School of Phototechnic in New Delhi.
Visit her exhibition in the footsteps of Platform which once stopped by one of her shows and found that it was a â€œunique, immersive experience of visiting someoneâ€™s private archive of objects, memories and experiences. A personal story of growing up in different cities â€” Rawalpindi, Shimla & Iran â€” with diversely different cultures, resulting in expressions of nostalgia and reflection.â€