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A Woman with Another Woman

A Woman with Another Woman
signed and dated 'ARPITA SINGH 1995' (lower right)
oil on canvas
59 3/8 x 29 1/2 in. (150.8 x 74.9 cm.)
Painted in 1995; one work on canvas and one double-sided work on paper
Centre of International Modern Art (CIMA), Kolkata
Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2004
Arpita Singh - Exhibition of Paintings, exhibition catalogue, Kolkata, 1995 (illustrated, unpaginated)
D. Ananth, Arpita Singh, New Delhi, 2015, p. 138 (illustrated)
Kolkata, Centre of International Modern Art (CIMA), Arpita Singh - Exhibition of Paintings, 19 January - 4 February, 1996


Nishad Avari
Nishad Avari Specialist, Head of Department


Arpita Singh’s figurative compositions often address thought-provoking subjects, both personal and political. They find inspiration in the artist’s memories and experiences, and reflect her thoughts, as a woman, on issues like identity, displacement and violence that constantly blur the boundaries between private and public in women’s lives. “She absorbs the complexities of the world and represents them in her own distinctive way through the sensuous use of paint and brush, signalling joy, wonder, menace and melancholy in an intricate kaleidoscope of human emotions” (E. Dutta, Arpita Singh, Picture Postcard 2003-2006, New Delhi, 2006, p. 1).

In the early 1990s, Singh began exploring the intricacies of female identity, particularly the poignancy of physical and emotional changes mediated by external forces like the passage of time. Both the figure of the girl child and the aging female body became recurring motifs in Singh’s paintings, and her imagery took on a lexicon tinged with nostalgia. Navigating the cruelty of time and society, the artist often paired female figures in her work as mothers and daughters, with the former playing the role of guide and protector. As she noted, “Since 1993, I find that I am increasingly painting a woman and another. I have been painting mother and daughter figures. One reason for this bent in my work is that I believe life progresses from woman to woman” (Artist statement, Arpita Singh, Kolkata, 1995, unpaginated).

In the present lot, Singh leaves the relationship between her two female figures more ambiguous, painting an almost life-size seated woman cradling a smaller doll-like figure in her lap. Although she refrains from labelling their relationship in the title, it is hard not to see a maternal quality in it. Deepak Ananth calls “this matrilineal trope the Matroyshka syndrome, (after the Russian nesting dolls) – this desire for a diminutive version of oneself, gratifying the fantasy to protect and be protected, although the latter option is not something that can be taken for granted given the importuning male presences that crowd the space of the paintings” (D. Ananth, ‘Profound Play’, Arpita Singh, New Delhi, 2015, p. 33).

In this painting, although both figures appear vulnerable in their nakedness, the older one seems to shield her younger counterpart, turning her away from a procession of planes at the right margin of the painted surface. Recurrent motifs in Singh’s painting, planes and cars symbolize arrivals and departures, and the potential such movement has for disruption and violence. Unsurprisingly, a partially visible male figure sits astride one of the planes, representing a further transgression or incursion from the outside world.

Unlike some of her earlier paintings, in this work Singh does not completely frame her scene with the ornamental borders that were inspired by the rich textile traditions of Bengal. While beds of pink and white flowers line the left and lower edges of the work, they trail off, leaving her figures more exposed than before. Singh reflects on this change, noting, “Earlier I used the frame as a device to lift the whole painting. It was also a kind of protection for all that was happening inside the canvas. But I now have the inner frame partly open because I feel that the outer world is going to invade and whatever is inevitable is going to happen” (Artist statement, Arpita Singh, Kolkata, 1995, unpaginated).

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