“I am a mirror. When I paint, you see not what I have made but what you want to see."
Born in 1960, Seema Kohli has created her own niche in the world of contemporary art since past 35 years. Her creative repertoire is eclectic, encompassing a wide range of mediums ranging from painting, murals, experiential installation performances, films to installations, sculptures and each a unique expression of her style. She has over time has brought a synergy of her unique sensibilities and her art. Working with oils on canvas, inks, mixed mediums, ceramics and printmaking, her work has redefined the basic contours of figurative art in India.
Seema Kohli’s canvases are layered with many, many stories rooted as much in philosophy as in knowledge gained in modern times, a parable of tales both imagined and real, till one can no longer tell the real from the imagined.
"I, Seema Kohli, painter and teller of stories, am both myth and reality. Pick the one you want, but remember, the mirror distorts, and so the myth might be reality, and reality myth.”
Through an enchanting interaction with the extraordinary artist, SR makes a humble attempt to take you to a world where myth & reality come together to create beautiful stories.
How did you get inspired to become an artist?
I think there was something very inherent. I started very early like all young children would do and just the passion continued and I was constantly painting all throughout my school life. Then I did my Philosophy honours but I realized that I needed to go to an institution to learn the various mediums and that’s why I joined South Delhi Polytechnic.
How exciting has been the journey so far?
The journey has been extremely interesting because, by the time I realized that I was totally into it, I had already covered a lot of years. My subject has been about my internal quest, about the energies that rule our life. But at the same time, I was very interested in different media and experimentation. So it kept bringing in a lot of newness to my work. And now with a span of almost 40 years in this field, it is certainly my passion and the only thing I can think about.
Your artworks exude a hint of royal ancientness. Tell us something about the philosophy behind these works.
It is about the ancient knowledge that I workaround but it is contemporary too because what is ancient now was present at some point. This makes me very interested in all ancient cultures, traditions, and histories. Over a period of time, they convey faith and I see them as very relevant and express that through my own work, through various images, installations, sculptures and also videos. My interest in past is because we cannot have a present without past. Hence, I feel that the work itself demands it to express in a certain way in certain medium.
The philosophy behind these works is the knowledge or about understanding the energies, about this constant idea of life where there is no degeneration. If we see degeneration, it is also towards creating another form. That seems very interesting to me and I have been working on this subject for years now.
You give a lot of importance to spirituality and storytelling in your works. Tell us about it.
Yes because I think the first time I was drawn to imagery was in imagination as my grandfather was telling us stories and I was creating my own fantastical world. This imagination which further gets converted into various imagery on paper and this is later called visualization when we get into complex kind of conversation. But these are basically stories to me, my own interpretation of ideas in which I’m talking to myself. I think that is the best way for communication. Everyone can connect for some kind of a story and that’s how I connect to my work – through stories while I tell them to my canvas.
The idea of spirituality - I was brought up in an atmosphere where my parents and my grandparents – everyone was totally inclined towards dialogue and discussion regarding metaphysics and various faiths. There used to be very charged conversations and discussions at home which led me to have a very spontaneous kind of liking towards this subject and continues to do so.
'A circle of our own,' the name is quite intriguing. Please tell our readers more about this collection.
I call it 'a circle of our own' because it is about the feminine energy which I talk about – an energy that moves in circular motion. I believe energy is circular. It is not linear which constantly keeps expanding and rejuvenating itself.
Here I talk about feminine also as a collaborator, as someone who is constantly trying to make alliances and build up a bigger circle.
Energy which I see as feminine, about the fact that how everything is constantly expanding recycling, rejuvenating and positively so. This show is a sculptural solo show in which I talk about the 64 Yoginis along with that I have few other matrikas which are also part of the show. The 64 Yoginis are in sandstone or the ballua patthar and there are five bronze and wooden sculptures which are about 10-12 feet high. They are all based on the concept of the feminine energy or feminine force which we may call yoginis. They are intrinsic part of the Goddesses. It is the energy that is constantly expanding that I work around.
What's your recipe for achieving work-life balance?
Well, when your life becomes your work and your work is your life that is the only way you can achieve a balance because this constant involvement with our work cannot be achieved till the time we make it our life. Every space and every nook and corner or in travels whatever we do in life, we have to see it resonating with our art. That’s how I do it.
I cannot talk about other artists, but for me, it has to resonate with my art and work and that’s how it becomes a part of the balance.
How has been your experience with WADE ASIA?
I was a little surprised because it was the first time I was coming for this kind of an architectural – a purely architectural festival kind of a space. And the kind of materials which were being used, it almost touched upon every aspect and I loved the discussion part of it because that is kind of an eye-opener for everyone. The speakers were interesting. The sessions overall were informative. I think more of such events like WADE Asia should be held because it opens for the ordinary man also, of course, they are for architects basically, but I think that even if a layman goes there he can have a look at various options and materials and what all is happening in the field of architecture and construction.