When the idea of making a sculpture for the passing out batch of the Indian Institute of Technology-Jammu came up, I took a walk down the sprawling campus to get a feel of the place. It was my first visit to the IIT. I saw the landscape and explored the possibilities that the place offered. Whatever I would make, I had to keep in mind the space as well as the institution, which is bringing up new ideas in technologies. An image of a bird as a metaphor is what could elevate the entire surrounding, I thought.
A bird symbolises travel through the physical and the non-physical terrains. It’s a living organism and reflects imagination, faith and resilience. It stands for the ability of human imagination to transcend borders, language and boundaries to bridge the gap between people living in different geographical areas. A bird’s wings are fragile but it crosses many miles to gather strings to create its magical imagination. An image of a bird offers an insight into the land which is visible and invisible at the same time. There are a lot of boundaries, both geographical and social, surrounding humans; there are borders created by politics, language or food. And knowingly and unknowingly, we are constrained inside borders.
This is not for the first time that a bird has featured in my work. One of the reasons behind choosing a bird as a metaphor was also that people can easily identify with it. My other works are about land, memory, and recollecting a deconstructed imagination and a new narrative. While much of my work has been with galleries and for exhibitions, I have worked on projects at the technology park at Trivandrum and at the airport metro in Delhi.
I had given this sculpture the working title of ‘Desire Wings’. But I now like to call it ‘Weather Wings’. It kind of denotes a change of weather — it could either be social weather or political.
This sculpture is made of steel, but may not look like it because it has been given a colour coating. Initially, we wanted it to give the look of steel, but we were not sure about the weather conditions in Jammu. Weighing nearly 600 kg, it is 14 feet in length and 5 feet in height; a 5-foot pedestal elevates it further. We made it at my studio in Delhi over two months and transported it to Jammu in two parts, where we joined it.
As I had to rush back to Delhi, I missed interacting with the students after the installation. I couldn’t even attend the inauguration. But I do hope to meet them and know what they feel about the work. The thing with a public sculpture is that whatever the intention of the artist, that is not necessarily what the people will read. Art in public space is always an open thing. And it has to be like that. One can read it in different languages and according to one’s imagination and thought process. That is the possibility of art in public space.
I have been working with steel for a long time, besides glass, concrete, tin sheet, wood, ceramic tile, leather… I have even used tar in a sculpture. But when making artwork for a public space, I choose a material that people can easily identify with. A material that can communicate the meaning of the work. I like it to be something that we see in day-to-day life, in common areas. A lot of things of daily use are made out of steel, for instance. That makes it easy for people to identify with, something they will remember.
Interestingly, the sculpture at IIT-Jammu was the institute’s ode to its outgoing batch of 2023. I feel that this creative engagement of students on campus is a very positive thing.
(As told to Sarika Sharma)
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