Harsimran Juneja's Art Explores The Inner Conflict Of The Human Experience

Harsimran Juneja's Art Explores The Inner Conflict Of The Human Experience

“Whatever the future may bring, today will irreversibly become the past of the future”

During the pandemic each one of us has doubted the entire construct of time. In a period where nothing felt real due to the collective experience of grief and uncertainty, time itself lost relevance. Despite this, we still remain deeply connected to each moment in the present day as it carves out the future.

Reflecting on similar themes in his series ‘Memoir’, Harsimran Juneja an independent artist based in India shares his thoughts on the inspiration behind his artwork.

Image Courtesy: Harsimran Juneja

The contemporary artist believes that conflicts can be magnetic. They can lead us to experience certain emotions but their ability to pull us into a tar pit can refrain us from understanding the cause. Curious to understand the consequences of being forced into the binary systems of ‘this or that’, ‘us or them’, or ‘right or wrong’, his work offers statements that question the restrictive nature of society.

Harsimran emphasises certain ideas through the use of street graffiti-inspired text in his artwork, allowing him to re-contextualise the visual subjects and further exploring conceptual art through the use of found objects, video, and audio.

Image Courtesy: Harsimran Juneja

The young artist is also the director and co-founder of Uno Lona Academy, an organisation in Ahmedabad that teaches art and design education to K-12 students. The institute has been recognised for its divergent approach and for pursuing a holistic model of design teaching.

Sharing his journey through the pandemic as an artist, he explores the forced changes in our mental health. His artworks showcase how sadness and loneliness are addictive but even in times of unrest and uncertainty, a shift in perspective through reflections can lead us to a new beginning.

We spoke to Harsimran for further insight into his inspirations and process.

Could you please describe your process behind the pieces. Inspiration and what drove you to the concept in the first place?

Carl Sagan, the American astronomer said that “You have to know the past to understand the present”. And Sagan wasn’t the only one to believe so. Numerous men and women in history have reiterated the importance of understanding the past in order to propel forward.

Over the past few years living through a pandemic, we have collectively experienced the impact of forced change on our mental health. Sadness and loneliness are addictive; one can swim into uncharted waters without any knowledge of its depth and its consequences. But even in times of unrest and uncertainty, a shift in perspective through reflections can lead us to a new beginning.

The works in ‘Memoirs’ are an attempt to reconcile with past times that I once deemed troubled. As the world got increasingly vulnerable, uncertain, chaotic and ambiguous, my journey led me to embrace new circumstances with a shifting mindset. This process encouraged me to find comfort within the discomfort to express myself through a non-linear language. I relived the past, revisited the moments I experienced physically and mentally to eventually chase coyotes - an act that symbolises the start of something new. A new life, with a greater sense of maturity to navigate through ever changing landscapes.

My process throughout this series was intuitive and sometimes impulsive. I’d often go through images in my phone or relive memories associated with senses such as smell, touch or sound. These would translate into a visual image that I’d translate onto the canvas and the image would evolve as I relived those memories.

I consider Memoirs a very crucial body of work within my practice, for it solidified the use of yellow in my works. I am unsure why, but I am in no rush to find out.

Image Courtesy: Harsimran Juneja

The display of difference human experiences and emotions are evident in your work, what part do they play in the visual story?

Every painting made in Memoirs has a backstory, because they’re memories that I’ve lived. When I lived those moments, I experienced something which was very different from when I painted them. And that’s no surprise because I am reliving those memories with the maturity and the understanding that I have today, about myself. So there’s a certain amount of conflict and contrast that layers each of these paintings.

For instance, ‘Bathwick’ is a painting that addresses a conflict between desires and reality, past and present, comfort and discomfort. Bathwick is a hill in the city of Bath, England where I’ve spent hours with a loved one. The painting is an attempt to capture a plethora of memories, emotions and moments I’ve experienced sitting or laying on that hill. Something that is now missing and who knows when I’d get an opportunity to relive similar, if not the same, moments.

The human experiences and the emotions are central to each of these works. They are what build the visual story; they are what re-build the story that I’ve already lived. Perhaps not accurately, but truthfully.

How has your experience been in being a co-founder of an art academy at a young age? What inspired you to take this huge leap?

In high school, I went against my intuitions and chose a ‘safe’ route to study Business in my undergrad. When you’re in a certain environment, that environment also becomes your bubble. And that bubble gave me 2 options - to find a job in the field of marketing / finance or return home and join my parents in their respective businesses. I chose the latter.

Final year of college I was assisting my mother with her retail decor business remotely. She had also taken up some students in her studio to teach them basics in art. When I returned to Ahmedabad, I found myself inclined more towards the creative fields as opposed to the family business. A few conversations with artists and designers had me convinced that I wanted to do something in the creative field. Additionally, seeing my mother take classes made me realise the gaps and also the potential of art and design education. And we then co-founded Uno Lona Academy.

When I started in 2016, I was an idealistic, naive rookie set out to achieve big - probably very far fetched - goals. I’m no different in 2022, only a little less naive. But the journey has always been that of a self-taught one. Not only did I have to teach myself about art and design, I had to teach myself about education and business. Books and podcasts became my entertainment, art, design and education became my passion. I pursued a masters degree in Design Management and Cultures, where I based my entire course on how design thinking could be applied to education. I applied my learnings at the academy and developed a fresher way of teaching and learning that was student-centred. Simultaneously, I also set up my own practice as an artist - the intuition I went against as a high school student.

The journey of me becoming an artist has probably circled back well. But that of being a co-founder was perhaps by impulse or by chance. I chose to leave a cushy job at the family business to pursue something that I was passionate about and that I was inclined towards. I had ignored my intuition once already, I wasn’t willing to do that again. There have been ample ups and downs, and deeper downs in the pandemic, but I move forward with hope that it’ll all be worth it.

You can further explore the artist’s work here.

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