PROFILE: Bhartti Verma / Through the Looking Glass / Sushma Sabnis
Young artist Bhartti Verma’s works hold the enigma of a portal which leads into an altered reality, a parallel universe within the landscape of the mundane. Anchoring those new found realms with her presence in her photo realistic works, she presents subtle imageries of an urban life, made bearable by virtue of a changed perspective.. observes Sushma Sabnis
In the Lewis Carroll classic Alice in Wonderland, the little girl Alice follows a rabbit in a waist-coat down a rabbit hole to stumble upon a world, a new realm, new languages, numerous friends and a few enemies unlike the boring real world ‘up there’. Imagine walking into a world, any world and experiencing this strange inexplicable newness to it. Young artist Bhartti Verma goes into the mundane world that she inhabits every day, but her perception and interpretation of this world stands far apart and far more imaginative than a lay person’s.
Donned with a BFA and MFA from the College of Art, New Delhi, this artist is nothing like the ‘lost’ Alice in Wonderland. Bhartti seems to have a unique way of looking at spaces, real or imagined, and when this perception is portrayed in her photo realistic visual language, one experiences a sense of an altered reality of that very banal scene. Imagine a space in a specific room, tangible, sensorial and something you could verify as ‘existing’ and then imagine a parallel space, which appears similar yet is altered and coexisting alongside this verifiable reality. This surreal or irreal feeling of ‘being there’ yet feeling detached from the ability to sense that altered space in its entirety is what this young artist brings into her deceptively simple works.
As a young woman artist living in an urban space, she negotiates her physical self and the physical space within a concrete jungle that she lives and works in, as well as a metaphysical world which she erects in her mind with the precursors of this lived reality. These subtle negotiations often leave a lasting impression in her works as they become either magnified or intentionally diminutive. There is a sense of capturing a specific moment, as in photography, and at times a post-happening moment in her work. However, the artist does not wait for any particular event to manifest. The moment probably was long gone and culled from a childhood memory and it would be seen here, reanimated, relived yet changed with value additions of her current recollections stamped upon it as a complete presence. This is like linking two disparate moments in time and then recreating them in a space she has chosen to grace them with. Bhartti employs this blurring of moments on a timeline to give it new space in her realigned reality in many of her earlier works from 2010.
These could also be imagined spaces, where the artist projects scenarios in a distance or brings it too close to the foreground almost making them unrecognisable. This change of perspectives, this play of moving back and forth, almost like the automatic view finder action in a digital camera. This refocusing on one object, realigns the space from ad/vantage points of addressal. In some of her earlier works, one would find a bird’s eye view of the sprawling city when seen from a vantage point, where the topography of that city is rendered almost like a toy town, comical in its regimented uncompromising dimensions. For example the works titled ‘Bio Movie’ and ‘Figment of Imagination’ where the artist juxtaposes an object, a yesteryear Bioscope and a pair of slippers respectively, placed against a floor which replicates chess board / hop scotch patterns and the matchbox city fading into the horizon. She anchors the aspect of the altered spaces with these two specific objects from a collective memory which anyone could relate to, while dismissing the actual reality of the uncontrolled sprawling city into the background. One is left wanting to look through that bioscope into that possibly better world, or wear those over sized slippers and trample out that burgeoning city. Possibly this is the artist’s response to the mushrooming concrete high rises in her environment which endangers the green cover.
In another work titled ‘Vogue’ Bhartti twists the visual right round like a spiral staircase. This could be a landscape as seen reflected on a cylindrical glass surface, or from a fish eye lens, either way, the rotary concave nature of the visual brings to mind the metaphor of perceiving the world ‘through the looking glass’. Bhartti’s perception of her surroundings could also be seen in some of her earlier works where the imagery is depicted as if seen through a circular telescopic lens. As in the works,‘Te He Echado Mucho’ and ‘My Enigmatic World’.
One sees the actual shrinking of open spaces as a phenomenon endured on a regular basis in an urban or rural scenario in the world that we inhabit. This shrinking of physical spaces that one occupies is further reduced by the intellectual, philosophical, social hierarchies one is subjected to, especially when inequality of genders comes into question. Bhartti’s perception of her space, although subject to social, cultural, economical or political constraints, she devices the reclamation of these spaces while clearly demarcating them as evidenced in her recent works.
For example in one of her work titled ’24:01:13’, a date in a calendar which probably was of significance to the artist, she moves from the single point focus from a vantage point to the clear demarcation of being within a space as a participant, a bedroom/ a hall/ a bathroom / an enclosure overlooking a railway station etc. In each of these scenarios, she is present within that given space, and she is looking out from her mental perception of her space to the rest of the room, and then further out of a door or a window or a clearly cut off space in the space. This personal space that she looks out from is her own inner realm. These spatial demarcations are like ripples which form on the water surface of a quiet pond, beginning at one point and then growing out into bigger circles.
The artist also renders this three dimensional effects with a slight change in the palette on the pictorial surface. while the mundane gets coloured in dull greys and beiges, the totem object anchoring the work stands vibrantly coloured and defined in form and shape. Hence, the shadow on a floor, from the window as seen from the vestibule in a house, in the work ‘ Enigmatic’ becomes the first horizontal boundary line, while the walls between the rooms become vertical boundaries. This very intense work is riddled with spatial entities and it is actually a maze reflected from the artist’s mind.
In ‘Uncertainty’ she creates window like rectangles on the pictorial surface against a black background to show pieces of probably from the same building structure, like a snap shot collection. In one of these windows, she plays with the pinhole camera trick with an over sized blow horn dwarfing the room while in another she suggests the play of the shadow and light on an empty balcony.
It is interesting to know that in the recent times the artist has completely erased the signs of human beings form her works. But in one of her most poignant works from 2010 titled ‘Never- Never Land’, she has employed her own mother as a muse, and the effort and struggle for articulation of her own distinctive language is visible. But hints of her now seasoned style are visible even in the work then. For example, the perspective of the portrait, possibly an ant’s view of a human being, from the ground looking up, while even a pocket watch looks imposing. the foot raised and almost touching the artist seems to be suggesting a reverence the artist feels for her own mother. By portraying herself at the feet of her own parent, the artist brings about the physical, mental, emotional and philosophical demarcations in the relationship, while physically and philosophically she is part of this being she reveres. This could also be seen as a very specific feministic stance taken by the artist where she declares the most impactful woman influence in her life in a patriarchal world.
There is an openness and a mystery about the works of Bhartti, especially in her new work where she begins to explore moving spaces, like the metro that she travels by. Also her natural trajectory of changing and incorporating bits of other mediums into the one she has mastery over, like thread, stitches, OHP sheets, etc also gives one hope about the explorative side of the artist. Alice came out of the rabbit hole a lot wiser, bolder and in control of her destiny, one hopes artist Bhartti Verma does continue to show promise for such unique realities to manifest.
(Images courtesy the Artist)