‘Home’ is a thing with feathers-Exploring the enchanting world of artist Manisha Gera Baswani

‘Home’ is a thing with feathers-Exploring the enchanting world of artist Manisha Gera Baswani

Aditi Ghildiyal

'Postcards8

Postcards from Home displayed at Shahi Hamam, Lahore Biennale, 2018

Home is where the heart is, this phrase acquires a whole new level of meaning when one witnesses the ongoing project Postcards from Home by artist Manisha Gera Baswani. The project brings together 47 stories by artists residing in India and Pakistan who share, or whose families share, a common history of partition. It all happened during a visit to Pakistan in 2015 where Manisha got the opportunity to show her works and in fact become the first Indian artist to ever hold a solo exhibition there. ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’ was held at Sanat initiative in Karachi, whose owner Abid Merchant along with fellow artists Muhammad Zeeshan and Roohi S. Ahmed became her good samaritans taking turns to help Manisha visit artist studios in the city. It was in these casual gatherings that the stories of partition began to unfold as she would pick her camera to photograph the artists in their studios. To her surprise many of them shared an Indian connection. She began hearing the same stories she heard from her parents about their long-lost home in Pakistan, except this time it was about India. The stories were the same on both sides and for Manisha it became crucial to share them with the world. Thus, was born Postcards from Home which in today’s day and time provides us with a comforting prospect rebutting the abysmal nationalistic hysteria arresting the world. This project has so far been displayed at India Art Fair in 2019, Kochi Biennale in 2018-19, Lahore Biennale in 2018 and Faiz Festival (Lahore) in 2018. It has garnered immense accolades and love in both countries. Now the artist plans to expand the project further up to 75 stories that will pay homage to our country completing 75 years of independence in 2022.

Jatayu

Jatayu, Watercolour and Tea water on Paper, 41h x 31w inches, 2015

The concept of home is something that Manisha Gera Baswani has truly understood and imbibed in her philosophy towards life. It is an extension of one’s own self and often surpasses the need to obligate physical demarcations around it. You can find it simmering through her art, the objects and artworks she collects and the beautiful sanctuary she calls her home. Manisha dons many hats, she is an artist, a photographer, a writer, a mother, a wife, a daughter, but above all she’s a collector and an archivist. Her home houses multiple archives - many homes inside a home. Every nook and cranny of the house has an object, a story on display. From minimalist works by Zarina Hashmi, Nasreen Mohammadi, and Jeram Patel to medieval looking life-size statues of St Peter and St Paul as well as crafts, pottery, ceramics, twigs, seeds, and feathers, most of which she collected from her society’s compound. And amidst the ampleness of all this are her own paintings and those of her guru, A. Ramachadran’s. Manisha has created a longed-for oasis in the arid gruffness of the city of Gurgaon. With the sweet chirping of birds in the background coming from the aviary in her balcony and the soft sound of jazz playing in a corner, she recollected the memory of purchasing her firstever works of art - two prints of artist Jyoti Bhatt in the early ’90s. The process of collecting has been very organic for Manisha, “I do not go looking for objects, but objects find their place in my home… I want to surround myself with objects and art that have touched my heart and not my mind.” She calls her collection a ‘living collection’ as she says whatever she and her husband have collected over the years is simultaneously living, breathing and aging with them.

Home

HOME, Handpicked Feathers, 96 inches height , 2018

Akin to collecting, her process of painting is also very organic and pure. She often starts with a blank piece of paper and lets her heart guide the way into a rhythmic alternating process of subconscious and conscious creating. The result are works that are soulful, surreal and laden with personal and collective stories. With influences hailing from Mughal miniatures and architecture, Safavid Miniatures and Old Christian manuscripts to daily inanimate objects found around the house, like fans and feathers, all find their way amidst the intricacies of her renderings. At present Manisha finds herself oscillating between the austerity of minimalism which has gradually permeated into her art practice and the elaborateness of miniature paintings. Nonetheless, her process remains meditative and intricate often consuming a whole day just to paint 4-5 inches of space.

TAPESTRY OF HOPE WOVEN

Tapestry of Hope Woven, Watercolour & Gouache on Paper, 64h x 31w inches, 2017 

Manisha describes herself as an “artist who happens to photograph”. A hobby that happened by chance, arising out of the compulsive yearning to document and record the precious wisdom shared by her guru during her visits to his studio. The camera soon became her companion and she started taking it around everywhere capturing her artist friends in the comfort of their studios. Eventually, over the years this built into an astounding photo archive. Artists began to take notice and often requested her to share their pictures for their catalogs and exhibitions. It was finally in 2010 when, albeit a bit nervously, she first presented a body of 50 photographs for the first time to an esteemed art audience and the response she got was overwhelming. And rest was history as they say.

Ranbir

Artist through the Lens, Ranbir Kaleka

Her first photo archive project Artist Through the Lens is still unfolding and is largely self-funded by the artist. The humble beginnings of the project had the artist initially rummaging through the listings in Art India magazine to scout artists visiting the city. Soon galleries and artists themselves started informing her of when she could come to photograph. Of course, there were some artists who were reticent at first but Manisha didn’t take it amiss. Over the years the project has evolved and escalated into a highly pivotal archive documenting artists in India over the past three decades.

Manisha Gera Baswani

Manisha Gera Baswani, Picture Credit: Manish

Manisha Gera Baswani did her Bachelor’s and Master’s from Jamia Milia Islamia University in Painting in 1990 and 1992 respectively. She also holds a Bachelor’s in French language from Alliance Francaise de Delhi and was a recipient of the French Government Scholarship to study in France in 1993. Soon after her return Manisha started working as a graphic designer at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) on a multi-media project on Gita Govinda, the 13th-century poem written by Jayadeva, under the supervision of Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan. This project thereafter traveled to major museums and art institutions around the world.

Her guru, A. Ramachandran inspired her to look inwards for creativity, which Manisha upholds as a true mark of a good teacher- one who believes in imparting his philosophy but never his technique to his students. He encouraged her to search the essence of one’s own existence. His teachings, the love and affection of her parents, a deep rootedness in the Indian philosophy, compassion and wisdom reflect deeply in her journey in life and in art. When asked if she feels a project like Postcards from Home has the potential to bring upon a change in our society at large, the artist insightfully replies, “Art has the power to influence, enlighten and even elevate people from a humdrum existence, it may not necessarily bring about a change in the society, but one can always be hopeful!”

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