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Cultivate Featured Artist: Divyangi Shukla

The Cultivate Curatorial Board is excited to share the work of Divyangi Shukla.

Divyangi shares her work and process in our interview below.

Learn more about the Cultivate Featured artist series below.

Learn more about Divyangi on her:

Briefly describe your work or share your artist statement

I work from my encounters or planned visits to people around me. I take elements from these encounters, to recreate objects and surfaces around the people, like toys of the children I have visited, dolls and plush animals owned by aged neighbors, fabrics defining their lived history and narrative, as well as the patterns on their dresses.

I am interested in evoking the emotions, memories, experiences with abstracted, sublimated and caricaturized figures and elements. Iterations of patterns and of the figure through several material experiments is another important aspect of the process.

The Remembered Baby. Oct 2022. Canvas, fabric, acrylic, felt, fiber, paper, 23" x 25.5” & 8.25 x 12".

Image Courtesy of Artist

How do you go about beginning a new piece? Do you have it planned or is it more spontaneous?

I don’t have one typical way of beginning a new piece. I have always drawn a lot on the field. Often I took photographs of people to develop/ paint further on my view of their portraits. In case of my isolation from their immediate presence, I tend to create by observing their photographs. Then, several details around the person would start demanding equal or more attention for expression. So, I let the impressions from these details within a photo or from a sensation, gesture registered in that live interaction to guide me in re-creating it in my way.

For the past several months, my pieces have become very generative meaning that while creating one thing, an element or whole starts speaking of need for more or several other iterations. Thus one thing would lead to another and then yet another. So, the process of beginning a new work is a combination of different ways.

What is a barrier that you, as an artist, overcame?

I would say I have faced challenges and struggles, not exactly barriers. These were the struggles to find ways to navigate and create in my constantly changing contexts. When I studied art in the Netherlands, I looked for ways to confront, refute and also synthesize the overly conceptual and new-media governed Dutch art scene. I combined my much liked process of drawing, modeling with hand with their kind of textual and conceptual research and their ways of structuring a project.

piece of red fabric painted mint green on edges with muted, light purple, polka dots sewn over surface
Those Polka Dots on Her Frock. June 2022. Fabric, fiber, acrylic paint, 28” x 18". Image Courtesy of Artist

Here in the US, I usually experience a ‘separate, product’ like understanding of the artwork that’s well suited to a gallery or museum presentation, quite different to what my works/projects have been. Thus, I overcome this challenge by understanding my new American context, questioning it, getting inspired and influenced by it while retaining or reclaiming elements from my past practice.

What is your go-to music when you're working on art?

It depends on the mood and my need in a particular moment. My most loved music at work or outside of work is A R Rahman’s. When in need of undisturbed long stretches, I put his or other Indian classical instrumental music to bring in melody, calm or focus. When I am in a joyous and excited mood, I listen to peppy English songs with good beats and don’t mind their short duration neither the user (mine) intervention needed for changing them continuously. When in a disturbed or troubled state of mind, I listen to devotional, spiritual Hindi songs or bhajans to help myself culture my emotions.

There are also times when any music or sound appears like a distraction and a lot of decision making has to be done, so I don’t play any.

What do you strive for as an artist? What form of recognition is important for you?

My wish is to be with people, experience them in the most profound ways possible and then communicate these experiential emotions to my audience. I am on a constant hunt for materials, techniques and found objects that let me perform myself in the work in ways that are close to those experiences/objects preceding the work. And within the work, I look for aesthetics, surfaces and arrangements that bring all what I felt, to the onlooker.

painting of childlike clown with muted colors on rough paper
"Like she paints her baby". September 2022, gouache on prepared paper, chalk, gum arabic, 18" x 24". Image Courtesy of the Artist

I feel ‘emotional impact’ is an important kind of recognition for me. If my work is able to stir emotions- be it grief, melancholy, innocence, nostalgia or fear, or hit a spot somewhere deeper, and in as many people as possible (not just the art audience but all general people of the society, countries, continents, for the real art exists majorly in real life which is never as fancy and gleaming as the “art world”) I feel my work is worthwhile.

What advice would you share for artists? Share something that you have learned along the way.

I would say that art has a purpose higher than politics. In the current post-modernist or post structural times, the over-politicization of art has taken away the capacity of art to alleviate one from their daily conundrums. I feel the meaning of our social identities (that we derive from our immediate pasts) is very transient. In my opinion, political science, critical theory, and ethics are all there to teach us ‘how to question injustice’. Artists could go higher than just this. I would love artists to attempt and explore the myriad spots which are not just for or against something political or historical.

And I would advise artists to search for places outside their art academies, galleries, museums and all the “art spaces”, more into the real cities, streets, humans, fellow families, homes to get re-tuned with art and life. Instagram could show images of art works but is unable to travel us to an art experience. For experience, we will have to be a bit more with life.

What is a work of art that is an inspiration to you?

Egon Schiele’s portrait of Eduard Kosmack. Before my mind can even perceive the image portrait, I am driven towards the surface of the painting. The pale white background transfers thick, opaque plaster like surface with its multiple tonal gradations. The figure is rendered in an extremely expressionistic way. The style in which Schiele has painted it, endows it with striations on the cloth as well as the visible skin. The distorted and exaggerated features, the use of color and the surface rendering- all united inspires me to constantly create surfaces and forms with an immensely personal treatment that becomes successful in its ‘affect’.

two framed works, side by side, with light brown paper and muted purple, organicly shaped, polka dots on each
"Untitled", December 2022, Fabric, canvas, chalk, glue binder, acrylic, 12.5" x 16". Image Courtesy of the Artist

Who are three working artists that you love and would recommend?

I am absolutely in love with Marlene Dumas’ work. She is one contemporary artist that intrigues me at the deepest levels of my psyche. From her use of tertiary color to her style and technique of painting, to subject matter, to found images and photographs- her ‘weird’ paintings are successful in swaying the audience in discomfort.

Puppeteer artist Anupama Hoskere continues to inspire me with her scholarship of Indian ancient epic, philosophical, psychological and aesthetic texts, her attempts to popularize the nuanced concepts of these within her contemporary audience through innovative ways of combining classical bharatnatyam dance, theater and her own improvised versions of impeccable, ornate marionettes.

Thomas Schütte was introduced to me by one of my teachers during my past studies. I find the intimacy and emotionality of his clay figurines to be quite touching. They have a ‘Daumier-sculpture’ effect that renders these figurines as grim, funny, intimate and endearing at the same because of the way they look, the feel of the materials used, the size and the unique arrangement of especially his ‘two heads and bodies’ tied together.

Two distressed dolls sewed to fabric backer with tight blue pinstriping. Doll on left is wearing worn pink velvet dress with large blue eyes and blonde hair. Doll on right is smaller with white baby dress
“Her baby and mama dolls”, August 2022, Canvas, fabric, clay, fabric, hair on wire skeleton, acrylic, 18” x 21” x 4”. Image Courtesy of the Artist


Cultivate Artists

A curated collection of emerging and mid-career artists. The featured artist program at Cultivate serves to share the artist's work and process with the community, inviting them to understand how and why an artist creates the work they do, to market and promote artists, and to connect artists to each other and to our network of curators, artists, and gallery owners.

These artists are curated together and represent the work that we exhibit at Cultivate. The artists are selected in January and June, and scheduled out for the six-month period. If you are interested in being one of Cultivate featured artists, please visit our open call for submissions.

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