Alaiia Gujral experiments with indigo

Sep 03, 2017, 12:10 IST | Benita Fernando

One of the youngest members of the influential Gujral family is exploring artistic versatility with ceramics, fabric and printing

Alaiia Gujral. Pic/ Vidura Jang Bahadur

If Alaiia Gujral could be a colour, it would be indigo. Working with dyes, Gujral can have blue hands for days; we are told that her hair is a deep midnight blue. "I wish I could be a Smurf," she says, and breaks into laughter. We are on a call with Gujral, an artist based out of Chicago, who continues, "I am obsessed with the colour. It brings me a lot of happiness. It is my playground, an opportunity for me to explore my art." Our conversation is interjected often by a squeaky sound in the background. Unperturbed, she chuckles and says it's her teacup Yorkshire terrier, Brutus fiddling with his toy.

At 23, Gujral wears her surname lightly. She is daughter to power couple, Mohit and Feroze Gujral, well-known both in the fields of art and architecture. After her grandfather Satish Gujral, the multifaceted Indian artist, Gujral is the next in the family to pursue the fine arts. She graduated last year from the Art Institute of Chicago in three disciplines -- ceramics, fibre and printing -- and is set for a major citywide art collaboration this month. She will join hands with Matthew Hoffman, who started the You Are Beautiful movement back in 2002. The project comprises public art installations, mainly through the use of stickers that bear those three affirmative words. In mid-September, Gujral and Hoffman will share inspiring immigrant stories to illustrate their positive impact on society.

Finding roots
Having moved out of India at 13 to study at Gordonstoun, a boarding school in Scotland that has seen three generations of British royalty, Gujral has now fallen in love with Chicago. She is currently part of Canvas Chicago, an artist collaborative and production house, that uses cutting edge technology for its events. Earlier this year, her fabric curation was part of Canvas Chicago's New Year's event, Voyager!. Gujral tells us about Cosmo Nights, when Canvas Chicago hosts projections on ceilings, which visitors can lie down and watch. If the use of VR and projection mapping is niche, then Gujral is certain that Chicago has space for her community. "I dislike New York and Los Angeles for they can be elitist. In Chicago, the art scene is fresh, always fresh. There are public events, block parties and room for experimentation. My peers and I want to help young creative graduates find avenues here rather than go to New York and live like they did back in their student days," she says.

Gujral works with dyes, particularly indigo, for her sculptures, such as a large ceramic work that mimics fabric (above) and wood (below)

We tell her that she sounds a lot like her mother, Feroze, a former model who has come to be one of the foremost art patrons in India. Feroze supports some of the best and youngest names in the arts in the country as well as India's biggest contemporary art festival, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, through the Gujral Foundation, a philanthropic institution set up by herself and husband Mohit, the CEO of India's largest commercial real estate company. Gujral deferentially remarks that it's possible given that she has not only inherited her mother's glamorous genes but also her interest in promoting the arts.

Long way home
"My mother and I have distinct tastes in art," Gujral continues. If Feroze is drawn to conceptual art, then she is drawn to process. She evokes her own practice, spanning across three media, and says, "I don't like working with 2D. The pleasure of making my art is physical for me." Gujral uses wood and fires ceramics to make works that often beguile the viewer. A ceramic object that looks a lot like denim, right down to the detail of the stitches, is one such. "It was a huge work but it was so fragile that it broke," she says.

When we ask her if she was demotivated, she confidently tells us she wasn't. "For me, attachment is a process, much like the way I work with indigo. I feel attached to my works only when I have to sell them," she explains. It may sound like a naive statement, coming from an artist who is yet to have a solo exhibition, but Gujral says she is in no hurry. "I am not afraid [of experimenting] and I know I can achieve more."

With a Padma Vibhushan awardee for a grandfather, Gujral says that she has had the fortune of soaking in a creative environment. When she was six, Satish and she would converse through pictures -- he would draw and she would add on and that way a sheet of paper would be passed back and forth between them until it became a montage. "My grandfather is versatile and could work across several media. He once said that the biggest mistake I could make would be to get stuck in a style. He believes that artists shouldn't be afraid of making new things, even if they are recognised for a certain approach to their practice," she says.

Going by those wise words, we wonder if Gujral will outgrow her love for indigo. Right from commenting on its origins to its use in denim, she dyes and prints using the pigment in a multitude of ways. "I love the colour not because it is Indian -- that's not in my head at all. It's more subconscious. I guess it's a colour that travels with me everywhere I go."

Take 10 with Alaiia

Gujral’s fabric curation for Canvas Chicago's Voyager! event

A contemporary artist whose works you admire
Robert Rauschenberg.

Your take on the art scene in India
It's growing. Things have evolved in the last few years and there is more recognition for young artists.

A city you'd love to be in
Chicago. I am right where I want to be.

On Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate
It's great for taking selfies! On a more serious note, it's a unique piece -- I love the way it reflects the city. But I can't say
I have a relationship with it. I think I love it because I love Chicago.

A favourite work by your grandfather
A series of about 25 2D works that use metal and piping.

Your go-to piece of tech
Photoshop. I live on it.

A favourite Renaissance master
Titian. He used crushed glass to create a glow in his works.

On growing up with the Gujral tag
I don't think about it much. I am very proud to be one and it's lovely signing my name. I'd love to take the legacy beyond India.

Your art inspiration
Taking walks around the city. Whether it's watching people in a grocery store or a dog on the road.

If you weren't an artist...
I'd be my mother! I would be promoting artists.

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