Magazine article Sculpture

Action and Magic: A Conversation with Navjot Altaf

Magazine article Sculpture

Action and Magic: A Conversation with Navjot Altaf

Article excerpt

Over the course of a long career, Navjot Altaf has experimented with a host of media and materials. Her work, which has evolved to embrace new dimensions, reflects a personal journey, celebrating relationships and mourning losses while making strong statements about socioeconomic trends, especially in India. Navjot speaks out against social injustices through an unlikely formal coalition of the mythological, the abstract, and the performative. In her belief that art can effect change, she cites Ernst Fischer's The Necessity of Art, published in English translation in 1963, in which he writes that "art is not some optional form of entertainment, but a constructive part of human consciousness and social being. Art is necessary in order that man should be able to recognize and change the world. But art is also necessary by virtue of the magic inherent in it." That synthesis of action and magic, Navjot says, "inspired me a great deal and will shape my thought processes in the years to come"

Chitra Balasubramaniam: What determined your journey into the world of art and led you to sculpture, installation, and video?

Navjot Altaf: Art interested me from a very young age. My school, based on the Shantiniketan system in Meerut, encouraged art, languages, and experimentation as important aspects of learning. My art teacher introduced us to many styles of painting, not only from India - particularly Bengal -but also from Europe, including artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo. Their works made a deep, lasting impression on me, because of their inventive experimentation in multiple disciplines. I studied both applied and fine arts for five years at the Sir J.J. School of Art in Bombay. This was a learning ground for a broad understanding of Western art history and aesthetics, with an emphasis on an apolitical and universal approach. The system looked at the field of art as a specialized world. But toward the end of fifth year, outside school, I was introduced to progressive left thinking when I met Altaf. Aspects of dialectics, the logic that nothing is static, which has its origins in ancient societies, made sense to me.

CB: How did your artistic moorings metamorphose after you married Altaf, an activist artist? Did marriage change your perceptions and beliefs or rein - force them? Usually, sharing space on a personal and professional level adds a new dimension to the work of both artists.

NA: Altaf had returned from England stimulated by the British and American countercultural movements in the '60s. Exposure to Marxist thinking about how "art must be seen in the context of the whole of society" changed my perception but later raised many questions. Critical review of conventional notions made sense. Living and working together in the same space encouraged communication at various levels - a kind of intellectual compatibility grew, and we could share almost everything, including our differences. Interaction with other artists, filmmakers, poets, theater persons, journalists, activists, and students of similar orientation in the '70s added new dimensions to life and work, specifically in terms of taking up a political position through choice and action.

CB: You have seen the growth of the Indian art world, especially in terms of sculpture and installation. Has much changed since the time when you started working?

NA: The Indian art world has moved quite a lot since the time I began. Changed notions of art and art-making have transformed the visions of artists and viewers to quite an extent. Installation, sculpture, performance art, photography, and other media can envelop one another. The keen interest in art in public space since the late '90s has generated a whole new discourse in India as well. These platforms have helped many artists to explore possibilities in creating a dialogue with larger audiences by making art inclusive of people's participation.

CB: Were women artists accepted at the beginning of your career, or restricted? …

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