Snip, trim, paste - as children, making collages was perhaps the most democratic of all activities in art class at school. It was the kind of craft that allowed even that one young boy or girl, who couldn’t sketch a still life to save their life, to shine. The rules were far fewer, and the possibilities seemingly endless as we pasted the body of a glossy, magazine-zebra right below the face of a pouting celebrity, even while the faint smell of Fevicol got us all a bit dizzy. And then we left it all behind, assuming foolishly that collages were just a tool to keep children busy, but like so many other expressions of creativity, this assemblage of varying images and objects has been reborn into adulthood with a vengeance.
Collage art can perhaps be said to be a medium that’s a perfect mingling of existing forms of graphic art. Using paper, photographs, illustrations, and basically whatever the hell you want, the genre has taken on a new form and meaning in the world of contemporary art, becoming a mix of textures, graphics, visuals, elements, typography and juxtapositions that has grown from the initial scissor and paper stages - though that does remain incredibly popular - into the digital sphere. While some artists still prefer the touch and feel of paper collages, there is a degree of versatility, freedom and flexibility that comes with working on digital collages that can still maintain the look of paper work as much as possible.
The term and form itself is said to have been created by masters Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, and is seen to be a major turning point in the evolution of not just Cubism, but modernist art as a whole. As simple as they may seem, collages, digital or otherwise, are a lot more than just a cut, copy and paste of existing images. There is a lot of trial and error involved in the process, some happily accepted and others seen as more of a disaster. This form allows artists to play around, even transform different materials; to break them down and build them back up again with a completely new meaning - political, social or just purely aesthetic. On a certain level, collages question the very process of what a ‘finished’ piece of art means and fundamentally what final meaning anything can really have when it can be torn apart and re-assembled with pieces from different works, and into a hybrid of diverse media. Each step of the process adds a layer, a new meaning, and contemporary artists have now taken this tradition form and updated the techniques with the advent of new technologies and constantly evolving surrounding imagery.
We’ve curated a selection of some of our favourite contemporary Indian collage artists whose whimsical works offer a vivid reflection of our world today. Scroll on to know them better.
I. Akash Nandi
Born and brought up in New Delhi, Akash is currently in his final year at Srishti College of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore. Mainly working with found film footage, he makes collages and various ‘exhibits’ using different mediums. “I have always been intrigued by the way we culminate different art forms, not in terms of how each one looks visually. We engage different art forms in diverse ways, be it textiles, illustrations, film or collage. I have always been incredibly fascinated with found film footage. That’s where it struck me as to how to use footage of varied aesthetics permeating into a single form. I wanted to achieve the same using more static imagery and hence, thought to myself ‘why not collage?’ since then I have been working with this medium,” he tells us.
“In today’s world we have a huge bank of visual montages; as a spectator, at times we forget what we are supposed to look at and in other instances, what we are even looking at amidst the pool of imagery. Collages somewhat help me streamline that in my field of interest as to what I want to visualise and create,” he explains.
“Constructing collages is like alchemy, each cluster of elements used in the collage comprises of a set, and these clusters of sets bring out the final piece. The collage almost seems like a live performance in itself with all the sets in constant dialogue with each other. Thus, a minor change in sets can change the whole way of how the work is perceived and what it really stands for.”
II. Gaurvi Sharma
“I was born and brought up in a typical middle class family in Delhi. In my childhood, I always tried to beautify anything that I could get my hands on, from paper, walls and earthen pots to dresses, toys and random found objects,” muses Gaurvi. “My father had a big role in nurturing my creative outputs. I was always a very sensitive and emotional person, and enjoyed expression myself through art, be it painting, drawing or painting.” Gaurvi tells us that the first time she realised this form of creative self-expression could become a career was when she met a cousin who at the time was studying fine art. Watching her cousin create art with immense enjoyment gave wings to her dreams. That is when she decided she wanted to become an artist and went on to pursue a BFA from the College of Art, Chandigarh, and MFA from Jamia Millia Islamia.
“My works reflect my sensitive being and it revolves around my daily experiences. While in Tokyo, I was teaching as a kindergarten teacher and got a chance to observe the Japanese culture more closely. Creating something out of paper was a common practice which intrigued me to work on collages. The graphics and Manga was so much into their culture that it slowly seeped into my works.”
It’s the randomness and the element of surprise of creating a collage that Gaurvi enjoys the most, something that she says “is a story in itself.” Starting off with a basic visual in mind, the process of creation takes its own course and as she sifts through various visuals, through magazines, books and newspaper, “the visuals keep changing. The colour and the whole composition is never pre-decided. The process is very dynamic, which is what I love.”
III. Malvi Bharmani
Creative and versatile, Malvi graduated from Rachana Sansad College of Applied Art and Craft in 2013 and currently works her job as well as freelancing on the side, which, she says, gives her an edge to explore her creativity to the maximum. “Every time I watch a historic movie and land on the concept or story, my artwork ends up revolving around it. I love working with patterns, so every work of mine is always adapted with different kinds of patterns and textures. A curiosity about my surroundings, great aesthetic, and a sense of style--there are the things i like to incorporate into all my designs. My artworks are always inspired by movies and historical Indian art.”
“I love the story narration and visual drama of collages. Since my school days I’ve had a deep passion for art. It may have been my visualisation of the things I see, my understanding of the colour pallete, their textures and the way it feels made me stand out. It only pushed me further into taking up art during college.”
IV. Malvika Asher
A self-taught artist, Malvika started her Facebook page as a result of unemployment and boredom, as she tells us, and later, because she realised she didn’t want to do art under any agency or design house. “I work in digital media, and art is my passion but everyone has very different definitions of what art’s supposed to be, so I stick to doing what suits my style the best.”
Looking to break away from her traditional style for some time, she decided to give collages a shot. Having forever been a huge fan of the style and the manner in which they convey stories, she says it was only a matter of time that she made a change--”this is also my favourite thing about them, you can go crazy and wild with texture, colour and figures.”
“I began as a child with a page full of doodles--it started there and never stopped. This is pretty much the only formal introduction to art I can stake a claim to. Later, advertising introduced me to digital art,” says Nikhil. Enjoying the freedom collage allow, he discovered he could do a lot with this form; “my drawings had always been full of random elements, and collages just seemed like a natural progression.”
“At the moment, I like the fact that the medium allows me to get closest to the images in my head. Ideas never come linearly, they’re all blurry and tangled up. I personally feel like the making of a collage does justice to this ‘mixed up-ness.’”
VI. Pushpi Bagchi
A communication designer living in Bangalore, Pushpi grew up in boarding school which are a part of the Krishnamurti Foundation. Exposed to art while at school, she had access to fantastic art studios on the campus that allowed her to learn and explore not just with drawing and visual art, but crafts such as pottery, batik and weaving among others. “We were never formally taught to draw or paint which was both good and bad, however, it is what led to ma having an experimental image-making technique,” she tells us.
“I’m personally inspired by Indian visual culture and street graphics, which is most often layered, chaotic and very expressive. I enjoy mixing mediums and having a spontaneous process, collage as a technique really lends itself well to my randomness! I love using collage as an image-making technique since the final outcome is usually unpredictable.”
VII. Rohan Hande
It was during his time studying commercial photography at The Arts University, Bournemouth that Rohan had the opportunity to explore and study not just photography, but various other mediums. “Due to the size of the University, there were a lot of students from other disciplines I could collaborate with,” he tells us. “I think it was illustration and graphic design that called out and pushed me towards mixed media. I really admire how they don’t have the limitations that photographs do.”
“Collages are just great fun, to be honest! There was also that need to do more after I had taken a photograph, and that’s what keeps me at it. I like pushing the images as far as i can, while keeping photography at the core of it all.”
VIII. Sarah Kaushik
Going by the name The Big Eyed Collagist, Sarah Kaushik is truly among our favourite artists out there, but unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to speak to her. Nevertheless, her work really needs to be seen and there’s no way we’d let you miss out. A mix of old black-and-white images juxtaposed with bright colourful visuals, her work appears as a mashing of the past, present and future in the most simplistic yet dynamic manner.
IX. Seher Khan
Working professionally as a freelance fashion stylist, Seher tells us that she’s known what she wanted to be and do since the age of 13. What came as a surprise though, was her collage artwork skill. “I haven’t gotten any professional guidance with photoshop but I managed to figure it out on my own. I’ve always liked making collages with paper but wanted to find a faster and efficient way of doing it that didn’t include tons of glue! After I started playing around with photoshop and learning about other digitally made collages, I decided to give it a shot and my entire collage sensibility just clicked!” says Seher. “I’ve always had a good eye for colour combinations, image placement and story creation, these are almost the key set of skills to posses while making collages, I was completely immersed in this art from. I loved the fact I could use multiple images to create one piece of art or in other words find harmony within chaos.”
“The vibrancy and sense of being abstract were the attracting points, also the element of quirk. Collages can be as basic as what children do in school to as complex as probably what I do or famous artists like Morgana Wallace. There’s a certain freedom of expression I find in collages, some of my collages have only aesthetic value and don’t necessarily have a story behind it and this is what I like about this art form, not being answerable with a meaning every time,” she comments.
“Here are so many exciting elements collages have — the way images come together seamlessly, how each image coming from different roots can be stitched together to give way to one beautiful result, but, if i had to pick one...it would be the ability to make the viewer’s mind drift away into surrealism.”
X. Tanya Singh
“I grew up looking at my mother who has an immaculate eye for detail and an aesthetic sense par excellence. Be it making rangoli on Diwali, baking a themed cake for my birthday or helping me make drawings for school in upper KG, she did everything to perfection. While kids around me would use a felt-tip carelessly and call a few scribbles “colouring”, I was being schooled by mum - ‘Use the sketch pen only in one direction.’ Hence, I got a sense of various media early on,” says Tanya.
Collage as an art form is very playful, she tells us, and what drew her to it was its accessibility. Her love for drawing didn’t fade but, “there are times when I want to see quick results without sitting hunched over my laptop screen or other digital media. Collage retains the tactile experience. It’s sketchy in the beginning but the more you cut and paste, the better it gets.”
“My favourite thing about collage is that you can do it in any state of mind and spontaneously with the least preparation. It’s graphic, instinctive and very expressive. Perfect exercise to tide over a mental block or even brainstorm,“ she muses.
HG Special Mention
XI. Shakila Sheikh
Shakila’s story is phenomenal, a true ‘rags to riches’ as she made her way from a small unknown village in West Bengal to being the world famous artist she is today having had exhibitions of her work in not just India, but Paris, New York, Singapore, Norway and Germany. Shakila’s journey began when she was spotted by renowned artist B R Panesar, a collage artist himself, along with her mother selling vegetables in a market in Kolkata. As per a report by the New Indian Express, Panesar saw in a young Shakila a reflection of his mother’s face and adopted her unofficially as his own daughter. Taking Shakila under his wing, he got her admitted to school, but she was later taken out and wedded off at a young age. Shocked upon hearing the news Panesar helped her out in whatever way he could, and he would send her newspapers which she could then make into paper bags and help contribute to her family’s income. “Around that time I had gone to an exhibition where pictures made of coloured papers were displayed. That gave me the idea. I asked my husband to get me a cardboard and some coloured paper so I could start making collages. But he laughed at me. After I created my first collage he looked pleased and has been supportive ever since,” said Shakila to The Hindu.
Shakila had other plans for the newspapers instead of making bags, she began experimenting with collage work and when Panesar saw the results he was captivated. “Almost all of my artist friends were so impressed that they asked me to arrange a solo exhibition of my daughter’s work,” recalled Panesar. Selecting some of her works, Panesar held an exhibition at the Birla Academy of Fine Arts, in Kolkata, and since then, there’s been no looking back for Shakila. “It’s Baba (Panesar) who helped me achieve my goal to become a collage artist,” said a shy and humble Shakila to the New Indian Express. Inspired by her surroundings, one of her works depicting goddess Kali caused quite a stir with Shakila even receiving hate mail from people, but that never stopped her, and never will.
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