Artist Sudipta Das’s doll-like sculptures share the trauma of the displaced

Vandana Kalra
CAA protest, citizenship amendment act, Sudipta Das, Barak river, indian express news

Sudipta Das. (Photo: Abhinav Saha)

Even as her hometown Silchar burns with protests against CAA, artist Sudipta Das is revisiting memories of the displacement that she recalls from her childhood — when flooding of the Barak river during the rains meant that people left their homes only to come back later, when the water receded. “This year, when I saw flooding in Baroda, I was reminded of the time when the ground floor of the homes in Silchar would be submerged in water. We would be rescued by boats, stay in temporary spaces. In the exhibition I have depicted that impermanence,” says Das, introducing the works that comprise the exhibition “The Exodus of Eternal Wanderers”.

Patiently crafted from layers of handmade Hanji paper, her doll-like sculptures tell the tales of the displaced. Made with the Korean dakjee doll-making technique, the fragile figures are suspended from the ceiling on the steps leading up to Delhi’s Latitude 28 gallery. Each protagonist, distressed and despondent, is carefully ideated — from women, to a man clutching his suitcase, to children holding hands, lest they get lost in the crowd. In the series ‘Shelter’, we are given glimpses into the state of the homeless, while ‘Mother and Child’ depicts the eternal bond.

CAA protest, citizenship amendment act, Sudipta Das, Barak river, indian express news

Work by Sudipta Das on display in Delhi. (Photo: Abhinav Saha)

A fourth-generation Bangladeshi migrant in India, Das, 33, recalls how she became conscious of her personal history while growing up in Assam. “I would listen to stories of migration. We spoke in Sylheti language, and had traditional Bangladeshi meals. I realised there was a big community of Bangladeshi migrants in Assam,” she says. In Santiniketan for her art studies, she began to deliberate over the idea of belonging and memories in her art. She would hunt for old photographs and archival documents in junk markets, tearing the found material into tiny pieces and reassembling them to create a collage. Parts of the numerous layers would be dyed in tea, coffee and pastel watercolours, to represent different elements. The desire to address history in a scattered manner led to the building of new narratives. If in a set of works from 2010 and 2011, she worked on images of Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the 2013 life-sized installation Samadhi had a man dressed in a royal attire, wearing boots with photographs of the people who serve him. “It is the coming together of several stories to make one visual,” says the Baroda-based artist.

The desire to simultaneously travel time also led her to look at some of the renowned works of the masters in her 2016 solo, “The Surface of the Memory”. American artist Edward Hicks’ famous oil Noah’s Ark, that sheltered Noah and the animals from the floods, became Das’ Mobile House, an acid free paper on board that sailed in turbulent waves.

Those who attended India Art Fair last year would recall her head-turning installation Soaring to Nowhere, with fragile figures suspended in air, to symbolise the physical and mental state of the displaced. The current set of works reflect the same emotions: “the precarious position of human lives in flux”. The lines that divide might not always be visible, but in the central installation, Land of Exile, we get a sense of people trying to find a place for themselves, even as the table on which they stand is broken into two halves.

The exhibition is on display till February 28