Two Printmakers from Baroda
by Sandhya Bordewekar
It is often believed that the printmaker needs to be physically fit and strong to be able to properly make traditional prints. Printmaking, being a messy and laborious process, is often thought of as a man's world. Both Preeti Agrawal and Kanika Shah are hardly of the size or build that many might expect of good printmakers. Yet they have proved the common prejudices well and truly wrong. They are not only among some of the most promising young printmakers, they have proved their mettle with awards as well. Their love for making large and impressive prints, especially woodcuts, has gained attention.
Preeti Agrawal sits in her studio at the Space Artists Studios in Baroda glowing with happiness. She is just back from the Religare Residency in Delhi where she has made some exciting prints. But the other reason is more personal she has just gotten married to another printmaker from Andhra Pradesh who shares her passion and devotion to printmaking. It is no wonder that Preeti's new suite of prints (on which she is working while I visit) is tentatively titled Happy Moments.
Preeti studied fine arts at the Lalit Kala Sansthan, Agra, and came to Baroda to pursue post-graduate work in printmaking (during which she bagged the Gold Medal). It was around the same time of Preeti's winning the Gold Medal that she decided to devote herself completely to prints and forever forget painting. Then, in 2009, she won the Inlaks Foundation Award. Preeti is an accomplished and hard-working printmaker and her prints have found a place in several prestigious group shows across the country. Among the various mediums that printmaking has to offer, Preeti enjoys woodcut and etching the most. She is especially fond of long, horizontal formats, and her two large works, Traditional Belief (a depiction of herself as a multi-headed Durga with painted flags that pull together women of different nationalities), and Generation of Beauties, (printed in separate pieces of 2 x 6 feet and put together as a vast composite work in an edition of one), are indicative of the ambitious scale with which Preeti works.
The content of her work often revolves around herself and her experiences. She does a lot of self-portraits, especially when she is feeling good about herself. An untitled print that depicts a couple in a warm embrace oozes with shy delight that gets interrupted with the man turning sharply to look the viewer straight in the face. It is as if the viewer is a voyeur, an unwanted intruder. This engagement with the self extends to other works that Preeti has made with women as their focus. The series Polished Beauty, for instance, explores the unnatural importance placed on physical/outer beauty that has turned women into market consumables. But this is a slightly slippery terrain for Preeti, since such issues are often highly complex and their reduction to simplistic equations on moral/ "Indian tradition" grounds are bound to be questioned or dismissed.
Kanika Shah teaches in a school in the mornings and spends the rest of the day working at her studio at the Priyasri Artists Studios, a spot that has a fairly large space for printmaking. Kanika studied painting at Baroda and was advised by her teachers to opt for Printmaking for her Masters since she was very competent with her penwork, was strong on drawing, and had been doing well in Graphics as her minor subject as an undergraduate.
Kanika was quite miserable in her early weeks in Printmaking until she discovered a liking for woodcuts. After that there was no looking back, and she has no cause to regret the decision. Kanika won the Honourable Mention for her work at the Bharat Bhavan's Ninth International Print Biennale, Bhopal, 2011, and followed that up with the Dr. Iwasaki Award at the 6th Kyoto International Woodprint Association exhibition in Japan. She's had selections of her prints in the 3rd Guanlan International Print Biennial, China, 2011, and the 53rd National Exhibition of the Lalit Kala Akademi in Chennai this year.
Kanika is experimental in her approach to printmaking. As a student she worked on combining digital printing technique with woodcut, or digital with etching. To reach her desired effects she began combining woodcut with serigraphy, or etching with embossing. At the moment her favourite is to combine woodcut with etching and embossing. Sometimes, serigraphy is added too. “I am able to get a very interesting 3-dimensional sculptural effect with these techniques,” she explains. Like Preeti, Kanika also has a weakness for making large format prints; even her etchings are larger than the usual sizes that are preferred by printmakers.
It was when Kanika was studying Graphics that she understood the real importance of paper and learnt to value its different thicknesses and textures and their relation to the making of a print. Attending printmaker Jenny Smith's workshop at the CHAAP Printmaking Studio introduced her to printmaker's books, wherein she learnt to appreciate paper's sculptural potential. When Kanika was invited to participate in the Vadodara Fly exhibition to celebrate Gujarat's Uttarayan festival sponsored by the Vadodara Marathon, she made tiny sculptural paper homes looking as if they were seen by a kite high up in the sky. These were made on the stretched canvases that had been given to all the participating artists.
Kanika's prints are generally inspired by the everyday things that she sees around her. One of her better known prints is Chukk Chukk, in which she traces the journey of a year she spent away from her home. Children, especially little girls, are a source for her inspiration; and Kanika seems to be keenly aware of the way they behave. Certainly Kanika's mornings teaching in the pre-school sharpens her perceptions further.