Eschewing portrayals of the pastoral life, Shambhavi Singh’s canvasses are visceral, nebulous and profoundly spiritual, tending towards the cosmic and perhaps, even the anti-idyllic pastoral. Lonely Furrow, her solo exhibition at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, re-centres our focus on the harsh existence of rural workers in her native Bihar but refrains quite remarkably, from any social commentary of the rural-urban divisions plaguing rapidly industrialising nations.
Portraying instead a preoccupation with the macrocosmic, Singh’s vision is ungoverned by socio-political boundaries and is worked out through the most basic of forms; in this case, through the elemental shapes of the farmer’s tools: the curve of the sickle and the roundness of the seeds that he sows. Even the production processes of the works exhibited in Lonely Furrow parallel the tactile, labour-intensive processes of the agricultural industry. The Hasiya (2011) clusters and Beej Brahmaand Ek/Cosmic Seed (2011) – first engraved in copper plates and later chemically corroded – seem to pay tribute to a communal resilience that inevitably wears thin against the brutality of life. The Illumination series is created out of painted layers of pigmented paper pulp onto freshly made paper, the fibrous textures of the pulp presenting the known universe as it must have looked like to the inhabitants of pre-history.
Yet for a figure so central to the show’s melancholic tone, the farmer himself is missing from her canvasses perhaps, this is where elegiac quality of Singh’s work emerges most powerfully. Anjor Teen (2011) and Dhibri Ek (2011) – among those in the Illumination series – depict oil wick bottles and bowls used for sustenance and energy. The turmeric wall sculpture Griha Do Sanctum (2011) is a bare, circular indentation carved into an uneven and cracked surface, illustrating human life as it is lived at its barest and most minimal. We know of the farmer through his tools, his home and his living materials but not the individual. These physical structures embody his marginalised life – they paradoxically express the sense of the transitory – yet hold the collective and enduring memory of a toiling group whose karmic reality is a designed dependence on and perhaps, the eventual consumption by the cyclic forces of nature.
Lonely Furrow will be on view at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute until 10 September 2011.