Overview

Works

Essay

Debjani Bhardwaj is a captivating visual storyteller whose art delves into the depths of legend and folklore, uncovering the obscured narratives and unseen elements within. Her creative impulse drives her to reinterpret epic tales, presenting them in a manner that is vaguely familiar yet profoundly altered, offering a contemporary reimagining infused with ambiguity and incompleteness.

 

Her approach to storytelling mirrors the surrealist tradition, reminiscent of Lautréamont’s concept of unexpected juxtapositions, where everyday objects are playfully transformed to provoke the viewer’s perception. Through her interventions, peripheral characters and transient moments take center stage, weaving together multiple tales into ever-changing sequences akin to the ‘exquisite corpses’ genre. Operating within a liminal space where the unknown is embraced and explored, she navigates through the darkness of our subconscious, colliding with walls and objects until clarity emerges. Her worlds are inhabited by shapeshifters, blurring the boundaries between human and non-human, echoing the universal truth of interconnectedness. Each species serves as a metaphor for another, illustrating the universal truth of humanity’s intrinsic connection to the natural world.

 

Debjani successfully creates fantasy worlds that evoke curiosity, imagination, and wonder from her audience as they look into these small windows containing three-dimensional stories. Her miniature tunnel books based on scenes from the Panchatantra tales depict stories that are rich with vivid imagery and moral lessons bring the timeless stories of the Panchatantra to life in a visually stunning and immersive format. She also brings the timeless tales of Arabian folklore to life in a visually stunning and interactive format which serves as a window into a magical world of perspective and illusion, inviting viewers to embark on a journey of discovery and imagination. There is a mesmerizing and evocative shadow puppet film that celebrates the harmony between humans, animals, and the natural world, inspired by the ancient practice of animal-centric yoga asanas. Her interactive shadow puppet installation celebrates the rich tradition of Arab folklore and invites audiences to explore the mythical world of jinn characters through storytelling.

 

Debjani’s chosen materials, whether paper, clay or glass domes, are treated as mortal entities with their own intentions and limitations, adding a delicate balance of control and chance to her artistic process. The fragility and intricacy of her work evoke both tenderness and unease, drawing viewers in with their beauty while subtly unsettling them, akin to a dream from which one cannot awaken. She invites viewers into intimate spaces to engage in playful exploration, prompting a sense of discomfort that lingers, inviting deeper reflection on the narratives and realities she presents. Debjani Bhardwaj’s unique approach to storytelling and visual expression leaves an indelible impression, challenging perceptions and inviting viewers to question the world around them. Her artistic journey is a testament to the power of storytelling, imagination, and exploration infused with ambiguity that opens the audience’s mind and imagination to their own interpretation and fantasy.

 

Kristine Michael 

Notes

Artist Note

I am a visual storyteller driven by narrative impulses found within legend and folklore. Prompted by my curiosity, I explore what could lay beneath the surface and the unseen. Only a ghost of the original version, vaguely familiar yet unrecognizable, remains in my interpretation of each epic tale. As I give focus to peripheral characters and transient moments, my interventions become contemporary re-imaginings where the ambiguous, unreliable, skewed and incomplete are conveyed through a subverted, emblematic language. Akin to the ‘exquisite corpses’ genre, multiple tales entwine in ever-changing sequences (within which I occasionally impose myself); each a figurative vignette drawn from muffled memories, unremembered but not forgotten dreams that flout the laws of plausibility and possess a twisted chronology.

 

I am inclined towards the linking of seemingly unconnected realities, placing them in surrealist settings in the spirit of Lautréamont’s famous metaphor “beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.” I take everyday objects and playfully alter them to generate bizarre juxtapositions that subtly prompt the viewer to question their own eyes or, at the very least, shift perspective.

 

I operate within a liminal space where not knowing is sought out, explored and savoured: where failure, boredom, frustration and getting lost are constructively deployed alongside wonder, secrets and play. I make work to discover what is lurking in the corners of my subconscious mind. As if opening a door to a strange room, I fumble in the darkness, colliding against walls and objects until my sight adjusts and I can navigate my way. 

 

My worlds are populated by shapeshifters. For as long as humans have been telling tales, there have been stories about creatures that are part-human, part-animal; men transform into women, children change into birds, and animals become plants and stones. Each species becomes a metaphor for another, reinforcing the universal truth that mankind is linked to every inanimate and inanimate object.

 

I often think of my chosen materials of paper or clay as mortal, possessing motivations and intentions that dictate the limitations of their existence. I approach a blank surface to unravel the unknown, carefully listening to these materials, aware that the clay might crumble or the paper cut could snap without warning. I relish treading this delicate balance between control and chance.

 

My work is fragile and intricate with notions of both tenderness and unease – perceived as so beautiful that the viewer is instinctively drawn in. Once trapped inside like an insect in a Venus flytrap, I invite the viewer into intimate, innocuous-looking spaces to play games, prompting a sense of discomfort as if witnessing an unsettling dream from which one cannot awaken.

 

Debjani Bhardwaj

Venue

Threshold Art Gallery, New Delhi

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