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THE MYRIAD FACETS OF ENAMEL

A walk through Veenu Shah and Joyti Singh’s exhibition ‘Between the Lines’ Built in the heart of South of Delhi, the Indian Habitat Center has always housed spaces for the different, the extraordinary, the delightful and the grand. It is a space where artists from all over the country and the world, come to show case their mastery over their skills- be it through theater, films, diplomatic events or art exhibitions,. ‘Between the Lines’ is one such art exhibition by Veenu Shah and Joyti Singh who have been hailed as pioneers of contemporary enamel art in the country. Shah learnt this art in the US, Europe and Japan and has widely exhibited her creations across the globe, for more than two decades. Singh, however, was introduced to the art form nine years ago by Shah, and there has been no looking back ever since. Enamel art, has had a long and fascinating history. The Persians called it the ‘minakari’ art – a name derived from the word Mina or minoo, which means heaven in Persian. Enamel, as a medium is a transparent ground glass mixed with oxides in order to make colours, which are then applied to metallic sheets and fired between temperatures as high as 850 degree celsius in a furnace. They used this method for coloring and ornamenting the surface of metals with brilliant colors and adorned it with intricate designs and motifs. In India, the Mughals used the enameling technique in order to decorate jewelry. As the legend goes, Emperor Akbar had a special department in his court for enameling. The duo presented their creations at the exhibition, showcasing fired enamels on copper and steel. It’s a treat to the eyes to walk through an exhibition that displays such artworks done through an array of bright, colorful and glazed metallic sheets. Even as Enameling techniques and materials have been used for centuries in the jewelry traditions of the Indian subcontinent, especially during the Rajput and the Mughal era, the real challenge the artists have undertaken is to fuse personal and contemporary aesthetics while playing with scale and dimension. Some of the art works are huge and elicit a sense of élan. Entering the exhibition, one is overwhelmed by the artists’ fascination for earthy colors. Singh describes how, for her and Shah, beauty was all about natureand therefore the art pieces use a mix of browns, maroons and bottle greens. On one side, for instance is an artwork named ‘Ladakh’, a namesake of a tourist destination in north of India,which uses such shades. It is a small grouping of enamel works done on metal sheets and then framed. Theyare reminiscent of the artists’ memories of the place\ as the artist further explains how her travels have shaped her ideas and creativity immensely. Singh, who started her artistic career with clay works and pottery,then explains how her visits to South America inspired her to look at various ruins of the ancient Aztec artworks. Visitors are enchanted by the canvases hung on the walls that display a picturesque mix of enamel, oil paints and metal work done by Singh that resembled chunky and metallic tribal jewelry one might have seen at one point of time or the other. Aztec artisans used a rich variety of materials like copper, gold and silver, shells, clay, wood, rock such as obsidian even for a single one piece of jewelry or decorative art piece. Mosaics were sometimes created by placing bits of precious stone into a background of clay or wood. Therefore, the Wall hangings made of metals glazed with enamels of various rustic and earthy hues inspired from the ruins of the ancient Aztec culture make up for an attractive art work done by Singh. At the center of the hall, Shah and Singh have also put installations in place. These installations have been quite evidently inspired by nature and its splendor. A zigzag of white water pipes have been converted into magnificent structures with wires with green colored metallic leaves dangling from them. These enameled green and brown multitude of leaves and wires, make the hall give the appeal of metallic and glassy woodland. Barks of trees are installed with beautiful metallic flowers emerging out of them. Singh explains the process of making these, “It takes an immense about of hard work to make these, as we sit near the furnace applying the silica based colors on metallic sheets which melt and fuse on the base metal producing a beautiful array of designs. The beauty of the medium is that each time a different design appears,” That makes one become conscious of the fact that, the artists’ talent not only lies in producing enamel art done on metal- which requires immense experience and expertise and long and intense hours of sitting with the artisans in the furnaces, but also the fact that they have successfully fused their ideas about nature and tribal culture together in order to develop contemporary art works. A walk through this exhibition is like a walk through the woods.

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