In this interview, Mariana Morales discusses with Indian artist Dira about the syncretism of European techniques and Eastern philosophy in her paintings as well as her greatest inspirations for making art.

 

Mariana Morales: My first question would be, what defines you in 3 words?

Dira: The three words that come to the mind are: Traditionalist, Aesthete, Perfectionist. I hail from a heritage that is an all-embracing confluence of rich traditions and customs and at its heart lies a treasure trove of art, architecture, dance, textiles, flora, and fauna wherein lies my inspiration. The whole concept of heritage entails a piece of history that I need to investigate to understand who I am and where I came from. My heritage, where I come from, is a piece of my soul, my spirit, and I need to dive back into it to rekindle my relationship with it, to rediscover my identity! Hence, the Traditionalist!

I’m an aesthete because I’m a lover of all things colorful and beautiful! The finesse of craftsmanship, the opulence of vividly colorful Indian silk and cotton textiles, ethnicity of accessories, bespoke fabrics that embody the various art forms move me.

Furthermore, with a background in Interior Design, the whole thing comes down to the color, aesthetics, and how everything ties up in a certain space. I can’t leave something alone if it doesn’t look like I want it. The same thing goes for my compositions, until I don’t find them to be harmonious, I go on and on and on until I feel like people will be drawn to my paintings by the vibrant colors, the composition, and the overall aesthetic. I’m a perfectionist!

M.M: Now, how would you describe your art?

Dira: The words that come to mind are: soulful, vibrant and intricate !

When you see the light and contrast on the objects I paint, it’s like a conversation that is happening between the object and me. It is a visual narrative of the stories passed down for generations in my family. When I paint, I’m really lost in observation. Everything fades away to unveil texture, materials, colors, etc. I believe that the relief of a painting is the one to tell stories, it’s soulful because my paintings have a life of their own.

Furthermore, my paintings are an attempt to mirror the vibrancy that comes from my ethnicity. There is always a “color conversation” happening. I choose very carefully which color combination to use in each painting. It’s all about finding that rare, exact balance between energetic and peaceful. To guide the eye through the painting, for it to linger.

Another important characteristic of my art is its intricacy. I work on details for extended periods of time. And eventually, as I evolved in the treatment of my artworks, I loosened up and instead of working on details, started giving details to an idea. It was liberating! It’s essential to understand that the textiles I represent in my paintings are artworks in themselves. It’s a narration of the history of art forms that have come down as a heritage from ancient times, have been perfected and kept alive through generations.

For example, in India, there is this beautifully handcrafted 3000-year-old art form called kalamkari – kalam means ‘pen’ and Kari means ‘to paint’ – therefore, the meaning of kalamkari is “to paint with pens”. The art form was used for immortalizing stories for future generations through “painting” on textiles and extended to a wider variety of materials. Those stories were told through representations of animals, people, and objects on fabric or metal. Hence, there was a need to capture them as faithfully as possible. There is a story in the art form that I try to capture through interplay of dramatic lights and shadows on my canvas. When this creative process is formulated in my work, I want the viewer to see the objects’ stories but never lose sight of my paintings. It is supposed to be about reminiscence, the essence of the objects, and how those objects approach and speak to the viewer. My storytelling is read around the artform reminding the viewer of its origin and functionality. It’s not only about the objects, but about the whole process of their creation.

M.M: What do you think it’s integral to your work as an artist?

Dira: As I mentioned earlier, I'm a traditionalist (laughs) and I have come to realize Heritage is integral to any artist or any form of art. When a conversation between you and your heritage begins, that’s when creativity happens. The whole human experience gravitates around it and so, I’ve always believed that painting is nothing but a rich visual narrative of that exchange that goes on between the two. Heritage is not simply clothes, customs, food, territory, etc; It also defines our identity. It’s a part of our soul, it’s a bridge between the past and the present, it’s art! We grow up in a certain place and in a certain way, so we navigate around the identity that is deep-rooted in that connection, and it’s the best we can express.

Mariana Morales: Just by looking at your painting, you get an idea of your artistic influences, but can you tell me specifically who are your main artistic influences?

Dira: My main artistic influences are the Old masters, Dutch, and the Baroque masters. I love the way they worked with light and shadows. I realized I could elevate my stories to a compelling narrative by using the same techniques. I'm influenced by Rembrandt in particular, his approach to compositions, color usage, and shadows produced such powerfully moving but most natural moments of human existence. His supreme mastery of light, texture to emphasize emotional depth, and glowing painting style command attention! Similarly, Jan Van Eyck’s sophisticated level of realism, glimmering jewels, reflective metals, lush satins, and velvets inspire me as I work through the luscious silks in my own work. I love to read about the Old Masters, explore great traditional painters from Baroque to Mannerist to Impressionism and beyond. What I’m trying to do is to learn classical painting techniques and meld them into my own style to explore subjects relating to Indic civilization and philosophy, it’s a marriage of both!

M.M: So, tell me what has been a seminal experience as an artist?

Dira: The very first seminal experience for me as an artist was my introduction to the kind of artist I wanted to be. I’m a self-taught artist, but I do have a mentor. It happened in a call when my mentor Stefan Baumann asked me to paint Christmas ornaments in a composition of my choice. I went to the market and bought what I thought was a perfect ornament and did the exercise. It was a clear plastic ornament, and I was happy with the result. But the next day, he told me that it wasn’t the ornament traditionally used, and it was understandable that I wouldn’t have known because I lacked the cultural background. At that moment, something clicked. I understood that I couldn’t paint something I don’t understand, and he was right! That was the day I started to look for something I could truly connect to, to be able to paint it. That’s when I came up with the idea of painting the textiles from my grandfather’s workshop because that is a part of where I come from and something unique that I could share with others.

The second seminal experience for me as an artist was during the pandemic. I arrived back home in March 2020 and couldn’t return back to Canada for the next 6 months. It was during this time that I stumbled upon some really old antique pieces from my inheritance that have stayed in the family for centuries. These lay hidden in the dark corner of our house and weren't touched for years. With each piece discovered, came tales of long-forgotten past, treasured memories that now lay beneath the thick dust of modern times. I realized that often we throw objects inherited to us under the influence of contemporary times, but those objects are related to us and are probably part of great experiences and beautiful stories. Those objects are part of us, of our identity, and can show the future generation a lot about the past. We need to keep reminding ourselves where we come from, and those objects precisely achieve that. They have so much history behind them. The experience and the accompanying realizations changed the way I paint.

M.M: We already talked about your artistic influences; do you have any other sources of inspiration?

Dira: It’s quite evident that my main source of inspiration is my heritage (laughs…). But under that umbrella, one needs to understand comes a variety of things. Apart from the simple, distinct objects that have been a part of my paintings so far, I have recently come to find inspiration in another dimension of my rich Indian heritage - the great Indian epics and spiritual texts which offer wisdom on some relevant questions about the human condition and are applicable to society across space and time. Although, I’m yet to comprehend the full scope of its significance and message, but I have come to realize these texts become novelty after novelty as we go deeper and deeper into it and every painting would be a question answered in the process of self-discovery.

M.M: So, we have been talking quite a bit about the past, now tell me what are your plans for the future?

Dira: I plan to study old masters’ techniques, receive academic training, and blend them into the subjects involving the spiritual aspects of Indic literature and philosophy, especially the Bhagwad Gita. I want to give it a visual narrative. There is a plenty of literature available on the subject but not much has been explored through art. Through my artworks, I endeavor to coalesce the ancient wisdom presented in its narratives with modern times and extend it to convey its universality. As I delve deeper into my own spiritual journey and continue to understand who we are and where we come from, I wish to use Imaginative realism as a tool to integrate classical realism with the narratives in the text, blurring and twisting the line between the abstract and the real.

M.M: This is my last question for you. I wish to know why did you join Artasiam?

Dira: I really hope I can bring forward my stories and provide a window through which one could explore and admire the rich heritage of Indian culture and joining this platform allows me to do just that. In the past exhibit, I had an amazing experience of connecting with people who immigrated from the indian sub-continent a long time ago, but as they looked at the central characters of my paintings, they felt transported back in time and with it came wonderful stories and cherished memories of their next of kins from back home. By being a part of this thriving community of Asian- Canadian artists , I see it as an opportunity to encourage many more such people to begin a journey inward, rekindling their relationship with their heritage, one that is often ignored and lies beneath thick dusts of modern times. Besides, there is a need for more cultural representation in Canadian art scene and Artasiam is a great start towards that.

 

This interview was conducted on September 22, 2021, via Zoom.

Click here to discover Dira's profile on Artasiam.

Dira

Dira, Handloom Fabric and Conch, 2021

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Dira, A Stitch in Time, 2021

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Dira, Hidden in the Dark, 2020

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Dira, Brassware, 2021

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Dira, Old and New, 2021

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Dira, Tranquility - Silk Fabric Abstract, 2021

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Dira, Sanctum Sanctorum, 2020

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Dira, Beautiful Little Things, 2021

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