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Navjot Altaf ‘s socially and politically loaded work
Navjot Altaf is renowned for her multimedia work, largely interactive sculpture, photo and video based installations. The artist addresses through it the varied themes of gender/memory/ history and loss. Interactive and collaborative in nature, her oeuvre comprises community-based art projects set in Indian villages and socio-economically marginalized areas. For example, her series ‘Water Weaving’ (2005) comprised sculptures done in collaboration with craftswomen from a tribal group in Bastar located in central India.

One of the most significant contemporary artists of her generation, Navjot Altaf had decided to be an artist at a very young age. Her father, working in Civil Defence Administration, took the family to Dalhousie in 1963. This particular phase away from formal schooling activity made her explore painting. Later she studied at Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai. To begin with, she was interested in content-oriented art and exploring alternative spaces, which were not easily available at that time. She then showed her work at slums, schools and colleges.

Explaining her concerns as an artist, she has said in an interview, “I was more interested in depicting people’s struggle till the late 1970’s. I had been dealing with women’s issues, those of my own class - the upper middle-class. The criticism I confronted from my Marxist friends was that I was becoming too individualistic. But I thought it was important for me to reflect on my own being.”

Since then she has re-tracked and treaded the terrain of injustice and violence, transmuting her core concerns to the intimate, closely guarded private lives of women. This, in turn, lends itself to the pictorial convention of clearly communicating the complex emotion inherent in the fragile feminine predicament¬. In this fine balance struck between the work as autonomous formal creation and as empathic representation, lies the spirit of its expression. Art critic Geeta Kapoor states that her works are clearly about the language of eroticism, of the male gaze that still relegates women to sexual object, of hollow, unfulfilled lives and of female sexuality as the site of as much pain as pleasure.

Navjot Altaf has had art shows in India and internationally. Among her selected solo exhibitions are 'Touch’ 4’, Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai and Gallery Espace, Delhi (2008); ‘Bombay Shots’, The Guild, Mumbai (2008); 'Jagar' and 'Water Weaving', Sakshi, Mumbai (2006); and ‘Junctions 1-2-3’, The Guild (2006). Among her major group exhibitions are 'Transient Poise', Bodhi Art, Mumbai (2009); 'Excerpts from Diary Pages', Talwar Gallery, New York (2009); 'Bapu', Berkeley Square, London (2009); 'Synonymous', The Guild (2008); 'Frame Figure Field', Delhi Art Gallery (2008); 'Mechanisms of Motion', Anant Art, Delhi (2008); 'Shifting Terrains Altered Realities' at The Arts House of The Old Parliament, Singapore (2008); ‘India Art Now’, Province of Milan, Italy (2007-08); ‘Tiger by the Tail (WSRC), USA with ICCR, Delhi (2007); ‘Public Places, Private Spaces’, Newark Museum, NY (2007); ‘Bombay Maximum City’, Lille, France (2006).

The artist has also featured in the milestone show at London’s Tate Modern ‘Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis’. In her installation, titled ‘Between Memory and History’, she explored the pain of social disruption. It incorporated uncountable paper ribbons knotted into a metal mesh. The testimonies of those having witnessed cataclysmic events like the Mumbai riots were written on them. The monitors showed some documentary images, while the multitude of voices offered possibilities for reconciliation.

She was invited for 'Zones of Contact' at 2006 Sydney Biennale. She has participated in various conferences and seminars, including ‘Shifting Paradigm’ at Carnegie Mellon University, USA; and ’How we know what we know’ at Fukuoka Asian Art Museum. The Guild recently presented her new research & interactive project, entitled ‘A Place in New York’, an outcome of her eighth visit to the country for a residency program. An extension of her exhibit ‘Bombay Shots’ in Mumbai (2008), this interactive project finds the binding thread between the two cities and their people from diverse cultures and backgrounds.

Summing up the essence of her practice, The New York Times art critic Holland Cotter has stated: “Navjot Altaf creates politically loaded work, often collaborative, often addressing the social divisions and religious rifts that have plagued India. It’s a meditation of sorts on the interweaving of many contradictory forces.”