Exclusive: We listen in on a mid-day adda between friends and pathbreakers Narayan Chanda Sinha and Swarup Dutta
On the left hand corner of Narayan Chandra Sinha's Dover Terrace drawing room, is an untitled sculpture of a bespectacled man, made entirely out of metal scraps of myriad proportions, a torso made out of an ambassador radiator, sewing machine arms, a bicycle nozzle waist and over its mouth, hangs a lock.
“This one was dropped from an art fair in Delhi for being too political. I feel like art loses its place where anyone can make decisions about anything," Sinha remarks as he settles on a couch.
The sculptor and designer has been a crucial driving force in contemporary fine art, working with one of the most challenging mediums there can be - metal. Contributing to our free-wheeling chat was Sinha’s friend of more than a decade, and one of the country’s finest taste-makers, Swarup Dutta. Though he pursued fashion academically, Dutta has established himself as a powerhouse artist and curator in fine art, scenography, fashion and design, his subjects often overlapping for his audience’s benefit.
On a very fortunate afternoon, we caught up with these two change-makers for an adda about everything under the sun, from modern art, to fashion to Kabir and the somewhat ‘arrogant French.’ Excerpts:
Sacrifice is overrated!
NCS : There are commercial aspects to art and then there's an inner journey every artist undertakes; it's important to work out a sustenance.
SD: Sustaining your art is crucial. Even If I want to sketch, I need money for the resources and a place to put my work, there's obviously a cost involved. Then again, some artists keep repeating a formula because they have struck gold, and then they become factories.
NCS: Yes, I'm coming up with my company Narayan Art, there's going to be a very distinct line between that and Narayan Chandra Sinha as an artist and I can actually employ several people and actually make a way for them.
SD: I feel like it's so important to be true to yourself, if I'm happy, everyone else around me is happy, sacrifice is overrated. I love shooting as well and my scenography sustains my other practises, it lets me explore all the facets.
Fashion, then and now
SD: When I was studying fashion barring a couple of designers like Rajesh Pratap Singh and Manish Arora, the rest of them were at most, just revivalists. Now, so many young people are doing such incredible work, the language is entirely different, there's a nowness to it. This is what I feel when I see Narayan's jewellery, there's a certain nuance of tradition and it has a lovely repertoire.
NCS: I also feel fashion appealed to a niche crowd earlier, now with social media, everyone is very conscious about what they are wearing, maybe a bit too aware.
SD: Back when I was a teacher in NIFT, I would just wear a white shirt and maybe ripped denims, but I was a fashion educator. My then-girlfriend would tell me, 'why do you think the rules of fashion, which you preach, don't apply to you?'
NCS: I also feel at times we impose things on people, there are certain parameters in place which are influencing the younger crop the wrong way.
SD: You mean like the i-Phone craze?
NCS: Yes. I feel the simplicity of the taant is somewhat diminished when you weave 7 saris together to make a statement, you lose your individuality somewhere.
SD: You know Paris has been positioned as such a hub for fashion. I think the way the French value themselves is good, but then again, I've observed a bubble around them. If you can't speak French, some of them may not be too keen in engaging in a conversation. But the same guy steps out of France and may be quite lost and ask for your help in communicating. I find it hysterical, you can experience this change within three to four hours.
On being yourself
NCS: My jethima would serve us water in these stone tumblers, and she had a parrot and she would put flowers everywhere, that's the maximum luxury; we didn’t appreciate it as much back then. Now, when we go to a resort, that's exactly what we're paying for. Which is why I think every age has its own merits be it your 20s, or your 40s.
SD: Yes, I'm 43! He probably doesn't want to reveal how old he is
NCS: Why should I, I'm younger than you (laughs). But I respect myself today, I know better than to live life for others.
Art for Art’s sake
NCS: I remember Ramananda babu (Bandyopadhyay) had once told me don't practise art for a reason, ‘okarone shilpo chorcha koro’. He was also the one who told me that a mango tree only blossoms once a year, so don't rush your process.
SD: That's such a beautiful thought.
On father figures
SD: We lived in the North East, it taught me a lot about cultural nuances and adaptability. My father and I bonded into kind of a team, we were friends, it lasted till he passed away like a decade ago.
NCS: I started my career not with sculpture, but with painting; once I went to my father and told him I wanted to learn drawing, but I told him it was for biology.
SD : You're completely self-taught!
NCS: You can say nature-taught. I would always see and hear auto sounds, hard clanks, machines around my home, it was all too structural for me.
Our ‘thakur ghor’ was a space which had a very different presence; it had what you call in Bengali a 'nandonikota', or an aesthetic quality about it. I clung to whatever beauty I could find...
The millennial crisis
NCS: I do think the younger crop want everything too quick, almost instantly
SD: Yes, it's essentially the millennial problem, you want to make an impact now if you can't it's not even worth it, everything is a stepping stone.
NCS: There's a journey involved and the exaggeration has everyone talking about their wants but not their needs.
SD: There's a phrase by Kabir which I understood much later in life, “Chah gayi, chinta miti, manwa beparwa, jisko kuchu na chahiye, wahi shehenshah!”
What about censorship?
NCS: I always feel we are putting on performances as we are not given the space for even expressing our concerns, or even positive criticism! At one point you just want to go away and live like a baul, but even bauls can't sing how they want, and my sculptures can't go to art fairs!
SD: I was watching Trevor Noah’s show the other day, and I really miss that freedom here. In art, there exists a taboo about body, about visuals; in ‘KAW’, which was my first solo exhibition, I tried to do away with that. It was funny when I found some people who appreciate my work, couldn’t take it home, or couldn’t hang it up on the walls.
On modern Art...
NCS: Obviously, there are art lovers who want to explore good art, then there's another section which is looking for happy art.
SD: Oh yeah right, the vaastu. I remember Narayan had this small sculpture of Ganesha its face was a void, it was a lovely form. But no one would buy it, because they assumed it wasn't complete!
NCS: Yes, but then there are a couple of galleries who are showcasing all kinds of art, it's so brave and we are so happy that it's not just about the masters anymore.
SD: Yeah, they don't behave like investment brokers, they have a voice of their own.