For Sunaina Bhalla, textile design was her stepping stone to art. Bhalla was a Delhi-based textile designer who worked for Satya Paul and then moved to Bangalore in 1994 where she freelanced for silk export houses, and designer boutiques. In 1996, she moved to Japan where she learned the Nihonga style of painting. Her acrylic-on-canvas-artworks are presently being exhibited in the city.
Bhalla admits that textile design does influence her art. “Design and symmetry of form is very important though I use it very subconsciously. I love the use of fabrics and textures but more importantly, I still enjoy the repetitive use of motifs to make patterns; nowadays, I use this technique for calligraphic works or even repeating the human form to convey whatever I am intrigued by,” she says.
Titled Her Continuing Narratives, the works deal with the shifting relationships between men and women in modern day India. “I see a great deal of positive energy exhibited by women around me. I identify with my generation of Indian women who have achieved professional success while having a home and family too, though the ego clash between the genders continues, and it bothers me.
We haven’t reached a stage yet, where its second nature for women to feel equal to men in the work environment. My contention is that we shouldn’t compete at all. Women still feel the need to prove something to themselves and the world.”
After spending seven years in Tokyo, she relocated to Singapore. She admits that the Japanese and their culture were a great influence on her art, which at that time was purely textile-centric. “I started formally studying Nihonga from my sensei Suiko Oht, who was from the ‘Kyoshin Do’, one of the older schools of this style. I studied with her for five years and it is from this that I evolved into my present style,” she adds.
Among her artworks, her favourite is the work titled ‘She’. “This work is my interpretation of goddess Kali. In Tantraism, it is believed that on No Moon Night (Amavasya) is when the goddess is most powerful. This work brings out the passion and power in womanhood with the use of red colour, which depicts power and passion. This can be perceived as both positive and negative,” she explains.
Having lived in three different countries, Bhalla feels that Indian women still have a long way to go. “It’s very interesting to see the differences in these countries. Women in all three countries are a part of the workforce but Singapore has by far, the most liberal outlook on working women. In my opinion, every woman, individually, goes through this inner tussle between career, home and motherhood.
It’s a difficult balancing act. Currently, the weight seems to have shifted to the other extreme, from not working and being a homemaker to only working and not having children or just one child. In India, I see a mismatch somewhere as there seem to be more and more single and divorced people (men and women) than they were, say 20 years ago. It makes me wonder where this is will lead to, eventually,” she concludes.