‘The Dark Edge of Green’ embraces almost three decades of Arunima Choudhury’s practice from 1995 to the present. This retrospective-like vista allows for an expansive engagement with her restless experimentation across various mediums including watercolour, acrylic, enamel painting, ceramics, as well as eco-prints on cotton and rice paper.
The earliest work in this exhibition dates back to 1995. I saw ‘The Death of a Poet’ for the first time on Arunima-di’s terrace as she and her husband Gautam-da valiantly fought the wind gods to hold this 8-foot-long painting up. The raktakarabi red from the painting rent the air even as a golden glow suffused the sky, filling my heart with melancholic what-ifs. The subjunctive tense has often haunted my curatorial practice, compelling me to retrieve moments of art history that have been lost, suppressed or left unacknowledged.
Arunima-di and I speak of the loss of love and belief, of planetary erosion. In her mind, darkness is associated with childhood trauma, having seen her mother endure the constraints of patriarchy. But equally, the darker forces of the subconscious have propelled her vision, freeing it of social and sexual inhibitions. I would argue that it is this dark edge that cuts through the simplistic reading that her works revolve around women and nature, too often seen as uncomplicated synonyms. Yes, it is true that Arunima-di privileges the nurturing, generative female principle in her work, greening her women protagonists and all creatures great and small. But, to adapt the American poet Forrest Gander’s insight for this occasion, hers is an ecopoetics that does not merely deploy nature as subject matter. Rather, it is an expression – artisanal and ethical – of a deep human entanglement with the natural world. In this, Arunima-di is a true legatee of the Santiniketan philosophy, which encouraged the practice of eco-art avant la lettre and rejected the colonial hierarchy that set art above craft.
I have structured this exhibition around two stories – an artist memoir written in 1999 and a recent family anecdote. To re-animate Arunima-di’s childhood memory of finding her classmate Bina Das’ body in the mora-kata-ghor or autopsy cell in Siliguri, we have specially created a cell-like installation that breaks into sharp angles at strategic points. While the memoir invokes fear and forbidden desire, among other turbulent emotions, it also proposes a cathartic means of overcoming fear, which is weaponised by the patriarchy to ‘show women their place’ in society. The accompanying selection of watercolours, ‘Beastly Games and Other Love Stories’ (2008-2010), does not illustrate the memoir. Instead, it functions as a testament to Arunima-di’s irrepressible subconscious and her transgressive energy, which re-wilds women, trees and tigers in equal measure.
The second story is an exchange between the artist and her granddaughter about the ethics of mending and repairing the planet by living in a mindful manner. It is nestled in a series of eco-prints on cotton and on rice paper. Luminous but no less edgy, these sombre impressions of leaves – guava, neem, lotus and rose – are as much psychological portraiture achieved through Rorschach twinning, as they are a meditation on slow time and interspecies hospitality.
-Curatorial Note by Nancy Adajania