Nature is perceived as feminine. Since centuries it has been called 'mother nature' maybe because it personifies the nurturing and replenishing qualities of the feminine or perhaps because of society’s enforced gender roles that insidiously naturalize women and feminize nature to justify their exploitation by capitalists and patriarchs. This subject has also been central to discourse on ecofeminism. Nevertheless, art and literature have always drawn parallels between the nourishing quality and gentle but unyielding strength of both nature and femininity as if they were an interconnected force.
These parallels are also a common theme in Manjot Kaur's paintings that depict the intersection of nature and culture. Fascinated by flora and fauna from young age, Manjot has always enjoyed painting and contemplating on lifeforms — how they live a reciprocal life with nature and how they communicate and feel. She's an avid reader who is currently reading about the interconnection between humankind and ecology which also reflects in her work.
"My style has been constantly evolving but abstraction, realism and conceptual art have been close to my heart. The rich tradition of Indian Miniature Paintings especially Pahari and Deccan, have inspired my practice. I like the fact that these paintings become tiny universes and have the capacity to hold the viewer's gaze for longer periods of time. While creating trees and plants in my paintings, I feel I have shifted to the slow time of the world of flora. It is meditative for me and opens up the possibilities for me to think and listen to various thinkers and e-books whose work is on similar lines as mine", shares Manjot.
The artist's work is heavily influenced by literature and she draws inspiration from the writings of Vandana Shiva, Donna Haraway, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Bruno Latour, Suzanne Simmard, Ursula K Le Guin, David Abram and Richard Powers.
Botanical Womb is one of Manjot's standalone paintings made in gouache and watercolour on paper. It proposes a new iconography as a means to find fresh ways to elucidate the motherly phenomenon, forms of articulation that free ideas and thinking from the conceptual straitjacket, enabling the mind to stretch beyond and begin to breathe anew.
Hybrid Beings is a series on 8 works made in gouache and watercolour on paper that aim to decolonize women’s bodies and the sovereignty of nature. To envision new ontological entanglements, it intersects boundaries of speculative fiction, archetypal allegories, and precarious ecologies. The situations and stories in these works evoke imagination in the viewer’s mind to remember the forgotten notions of care and symbiosis.
To imagine forms of relationality and mutuality these paintings invoke romantic relationships between birds and women - selected heroines who belong to the Ashta-Nayika [Natyashastra, c. 2nd B.C]: a collective term for eight heroines, each of whom represents different states in relationship to her hero.
The series postulates a queer ecology where the endangered bird becomes the hero, replacing the male figure from the context of Ashta-Nayika. They stitch together improbable collaborations in a multispecies world making way for kinship & responding to ecological grief and loneliness. Pushing back against the centering of the human and moving towards a thinking that eradicates the hierarchy of being and challenges the human/non-human binary, they generate hope and care to cultivate the capacity to reimagine a future for the marginalized and silenced. They speculate on near futures and rethink the notions of identity and interdependency making way for an ontological pursuit of what it means to be human, what it means to be non-human, and where these categories rupture and collide.
The World Awaits You Like a Garden is the title of a group exhibition presented by Bhavna Kakar with Sugata Ray as the as the curatorial advisor. For Friedrich Nietzsche, the garden is a geophilic site of sensorial engagement; a space where the wind carries heavy fragrances and songbirds teach us to sing. Imagined in the last decade of the nineteenth century, Nietzsche’s world as a garden is not the human-earth or the Menschen-Erde, a putrefying cave of anthropogenic climate change, but an uncanny landscape that can only be occupied through an ethics of care. The form of practice that emerges therein is heuristically arranged with the world rather than against it. The exhibition asks us to step into Nietzsche’s garden.
Manjot's An Ovarian Woolgathering, and When a Tree Grew Out of Her Womb were part of this exhibition.
Where Shall We Plant The Placenta? is the title of a group exhibition The Tale of a Tub, which is a space for Contemporary Art and Culture in Rotterdam curated by Julia Geerlings. The group exhibition compares motherhood with ecology, and establishes connections between the two through mutual notions of nurturing and caring. The placenta is anatomically designed to nourish and protect the baby, containing hormones required for pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Particularly in western countries, it is common practice for a number of hospitals and healthcare facilities to dispose of the placenta as medical waste, however, an alternate choice is to keep it for certain traditional practices, rituals, stem cell research and production, as well as for holistic and alternative medicine purposes. The placenta can be kept in the freezer until it’s turned into capsules to swallow or to be buried in a special place as a way of connecting the baby to a specific land and heritage. But what to do when you live in a city without a garden or displaced from your land and heritage? Then the question arises — Where shall we plant the placenta?
Manjot's painting, While She Gave Birth to an Ecosystem was part of this enxhibition.
Manjot's works are intimate worlds encompassing the anthropology of wonder and awe. Inventing fiction from mythology and the natural world, they offers powerful tools to demodernize the existing dualist constructs of nature and culture, raising questions concerning power and agency. Cross-pollinating ancient mythologies, the artist counter narrates iconic motifs & attributes, & sets them in juxtaposition with one another, to allow opportunities for critical reflection. Threaded throughout are revelations of sexuality, fecundity, kinship, and freedom to rethink the meaning of motherhood and femininity in present times.