#InConversation with Preeti Singh

By Sanjana Srinivasan | Oct 19 2023 · 6 mins

Preeti Singh is a multimedia artist and facilitator with over a decade long experience. She has done her Masters in Visual Art from Ambedkar University, New Delhi, and BFA in Painting from College of Art, New Delhi. Singh is known for her exploration of materiality, where she ventures into unconventional mediums like sprouting seeds, dried blooms, household objects like mops, and the ordinary items that fill our daily lives. In her creations, there is an inherent tactile quality, evident in her use of elements such as stitching and an expressive painterly technique. Her art is a profound quest for identity and a sense of belonging. Here, Sanjana speaks to Preeti about her practice. 
Sanjana - Hi Preeti! In your OVR, you mentioned that you have been trying to create a visual language for yourself for a long time. I just love how poetically you put it. You said the process of figures, objects and shapes appearing in your works is like touching something or shaking something for it to wake up. Perhaps we can start there — with the poetic and very surrealistic aspect of your practice. You have floating hands, tables and chairs, heads sprouting out of things, a bear as a self portrait...

Self Portrait, 2021

Dog On Terrace, 2021

Preeti - Sometimes we are caught in a strange feeling of making an effort of reaching out so deeply yet feel as if it's not received by the one we are trying to get in touch with. I wonder why there is this gap so many of the times, why can't I communicate how I feel! Whenever I touch and love my dog (Woffu), I feel that urge to be told back in return that she received it. For a feeling of reciprocation, I look into her eyes.  

Perhaps, it lies in knowing that it's received as I received it within. For a person like me, being able to love is enough for remaining a human.  

When we lose the love we seek, we also lose the love we get. 

It's this exchange that I seek with objects, forms, figures of humans I may or may not know, spaces which I feel I belong to or spaces that are abandoned just like me, landscapes around me as living, breathing entities, as they have an inner life, a sensation. I reach out to them, they seem to be listening to me, as if they also feel the touch as I do, which makes me part of their life too. So, when I paint, the sense of that presence is felt through feeling life in each other. In this process, their emergence in my works is akin to touching something or shaking something to awaken its hidden layers of meaning and emotion, unfolding a layered idea of self, that you are perhaps, made of so many intricate pieces of existence within your surroundings. It's a bit like caressing the subconscious to reveal itself on the surface. They are witnesses to my reality. 

The bear/wolf faced self-portrait came about when I felt a need to be strong, and to say, we have so many people/creatures/characters who hold us within us. The attempt is to touch that person within to reveal my own identity, strength, and vulnerability. This blending of the fantastical with the familiar allows me to navigate the complexities of human experience in a way that transcends literal representation.  

I invite the viewer also to experience this exchange, to invoke the touch that we lose with ourselves and the world around us.

Growing Land 2, 2021

Growing Land 1, 2022

Sanjana - How did this all change into the more organic, materiality-oriented process that we see today? I am not saying that your work is one or the other. But it's sort of like an evolution right?
Preeti - It's like extending hands into the space out of a zone of "reason" or certain deliberate meaning making; extending it more and some more, and you find something completely different there. The only thing is one has to go on even in awfully doubtful situations. Exploring a new medium is like that for me. During lockdown, in 2022, a lot had already happened, and I wrote somewhere in my diary “Art is not necessarily a deeply intellectualized process, it can just be a simple way to go on, to survive. It is a way to find hope in the most grim situations that each of us at some point go through." It's been pretty much like that for me.

In the process of understanding the need to touch and to be touched back, I felt a need to expand the material with which I work. To gather everything close, to feel the warmth of them...Perhaps this came from losing some of the very close people in my life; a broken relationship that I wanted to hold on to, to know I still exist. To hold onto things that were available in my vicinity, things that I know and have an affinity to, like clay, dried leaves, fungi on walls. I feel I am able to tell a story that can be touched, and its still evolving!

Where I Was Born, 2021

Stiching Path, 2022

Sanjana - Speaking of expressing oneself,  I remember you telling me that “skill” is not as important to you. That creating art for you is about expressing yourself. Do you view art as a form of catharsis? This is particular to your new pieces that involve the growth of land (plants), and fungus both. Could you tell me more about the idea of “growing” something vs “making” something?
Preeti - This is an interesting space to talk about one of my indulgences, my favorite genre in literature — nonsense. This fascinates me a lot! It's also called the tenth rasa, which includes works of Kabir, stories of Tenali Ramalingam, Sukumar Ray, Rabindranath Tagore, nursery and folk rhymes in various languages, folk drama and stories, lullabies, books like Alice in Wonderland etc. When I encountered a moment in life when nothing made sense and I was desperately looking for an escape to be able to merely laugh, these stories came handy. They made me understand that we are way too serious in life, that it's ok to just be, and as an artist, create a visual language that touches the humour of everyday life. Skill is only a part of art making, which may not be in how hyper realistically you can draw but how deeply you can draw. 

Acquiring skills was never my forte anyway. When I joined College of Art, my whole focus was to enhance the way I feel something, and bring that in my work. I used to dislike the academic way of thinking about art, which makes us very conscious of what we create. It limits the possibilities of making a mistake, to ‘"fail" at what was being attempted. It suffocated me. I kept that rigor going, making works with whatever came handy, however I could portray it. I was always serious about the passion I had for art making, but never about the way it should be made. Which helped me work freely, and explore various mediums like performance, photography, writing and many other forms of art. 

I feel this helps us to see art as a humanizing process, rather than delivering something demanded, and as I said earlier also, it's a way to go on for me.  

Growing is also part of the same process. It became part of my work, when I felt an extreme need to be part of a growing process. I wanted to grow things around to feel I too was growing with them, as I was told I cannot, I don't have that touch. It remained stuck deep down in me, breaking me completely. It was a way to heal as well, if you want to call it catharsis but not just limited to that, it was a sharing with the world around me as well. 

In the process of growing things on my canvas and various surfaces, I realized what I grow is also bound to die at a certain point, so why do I feel this lack? That's when I understood, it is when we grow, or just be witness to life, we are still creating something, we are still making something. Growing is actually a part of that effort where we are deeply engaged in "making." 

Blue Bird With Yellow Flower, 2021

Ask a Flower How to Dry?, 2021

Sanjana - Tell me more about the domesticity of your subject matter. Either the materials themselves are all found at home, or you paint objects at home or from the vicinity of your home  beds, chairs, birds (perhaps from your window).

Preeti - I remember writing a poem, talking to the bird on my window, it goes like this:

कुछ देखा नहीं सा दिन,

कुछ घबराया, तड़पता सा दिन,

बीत गया

जी हलक तक आते आते अभी लौटा नहीं,

दिल कश्मकश को कुछ झेप गया 

कोई आवारा सा पंछी 

लौटा था आज मेरी दीवारों में 

कसे अनमने झरोखे पर धुप सेंकते हुए 

वह भी कुछ कहता रहा 

सिलसिलेवार से, टटोलता रहा अपने पंख 

और कभी मुझे देखता रहा 

जैसे की कहता हो, 

है हिम्मत?

उड़ने नहीं कहता, अरी, कम से कम 

चलो तो सही,

आज तक ठोकर खा उठना भी नहीं सिख सकी?


चलो, अभी बहुत दूर है मंजिल 

नहीं अगर चलने पर उम्मीद तो,

कम से कम अपने उठ खड़े होने की हिम्मत को तो सराहो 

ये क्या जरुरी है की 

तुम्हारे आंसुओं से कोई जन क्रांति आ जाये 

ये क्या जरुरी है की 

तुम्हे मेरी तरह निहारे कोई प्यार भरी निगाहों से 

अरी, मैं तो हूँ, जो अपने नन्हे पंखों से तुम्हे आवाज़ देता है 

चलो तो सही कदम भर,

मैं सिखा दूंगा तुम्हें उड़ना भी एक दिन !

It's this relationship I have with my surroundings, a feeling of deeply looking into each other's skin, to become a witness of the tiniest moment of care; to know that these traces that we create and in the process of inhabiting a space, erase, are part of our making, part of why we feel alive.

In so many of my writings, these domestic objects and the domestic experience itself is integral to my way of being, which is also historical yet very much part of our everyday existence. It makes its way into my work seamlessly.

Dream in Metro 1, 2021

Dream in Metro 2, 2021

Sanjana - You know, when we were speaking, you also mentioned something about inhabiting “multiple temporalities.” What did you mean by that?
Preeti - Hmmm, to answer this or perhaps reflect on this question, I would like to quote something again that I wrote in my diary sometime back, and it goes like this, “ ऐसा लगता है जैसे मैं समय से खेल रही हूँ। जैसे मैं उसके बस में नहीं, जैसे मैं रोज़ दौड़ लगाती हूँ उसके साथ और वह जीत भी जाये तो मैं अपनी हार मानने को तैयार नहीं। जो पीछे छूटता जाता है उसे समेट लेती हूँ - मैं जैसे खुद 'समय' हूँ - जो बीत गया, जो है और जो आने वाला है वह सब जैसे एक साथ चल रहा हो मेरे भीतर। मेरी नज़र रह जाती है, हर उस स्पर्श में- जिसे महसूस करते हुए मैं आगे की तरफ बढ़ जाती हूँ।  अपने आप को जैसे समय के छोटे छोटे टुकड़ों में बाँट एक छोर से दूसरे छोर तक  खोल डाला हो - जैसे मेरा कोई अंत नहीं - ना ही कोई शुरुआत - जैसे यह कोई आमंत्रण है - आओ, मुझमें घटो, मुझमें रहो - मुझसे होकर गुज़रो, मैं हूँ यहाँ, मैं छू रही हूँ तुम्हें ऐसे जैसे कभी किसी ने तुम्हें स्पर्श ना किया होगा - मैं मिल रही हूँ तुममें जैसे मैं कभी अलग ना थी।” 

Strangely, I always felt never like one person, but feeling many emotions in parallel time zones; like I have become time itself. I could feel like a timid girl struggling with her fears of what it holds to demonstrate, to be an "ideal woman," or like a romantic artist who could burn down everything to keep doing art, or like child who feels and expresses the way they like, someone with lot of clarity yet someone who’s full of self doubts or like someone who can handle life situations all alone, still feel lonely and more. Being inclusive to this mesh of identities, that may be varied but has a way into the unknown, is intriguing to me. In that regard I belong to all the time zones, all the temporal spaces that may be also irrelevant to the "contemporality" of a given political space and time but are layered and deep. In a way you can call it a resistance to the capitalist idea of time.

Skin Of A Bed, 2021

Hanging Hand, 2021

Sanjana - Right! Okay, before I let you off, where do you see yourself heading in your this journey and what inspires you?
Preeti - I find inspiration in everything that makes me curious. I can sit the whole day and observe the clouds. I can walk into the park and collect dried leaves and twigs. I love to read poetry, children books, cook crazy recipes, admire my plants, sit and converse, and wander. Art itself is my biggest inspiration, how it teaches us to venture into the unknown, how it makes us wait with perseverance, how we are in a becoming, what it does to us... Where I see myself heading is a tough one....ummm... walking, waiting, sleeping, painting, and repeating? And some more...meeting, sharing...

Click here to view Preeti's Online Viewing Room and learn more about her practice.