Acrylic on canvas
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Nilofer Suleman (Indian, b. 1963).
Nilofer Suleman approaches her paintings in the spirit of a storyteller who enjoys nesting one episode inside another, arranging them within framed narratives and larger, circulating cycles of tales. Visually, her paintings embody the spirit of parataxis or collage through which the artists of the Mughal, Rajput, Pahari and Adilshahi ateliers bore witness to their experience of a complex and multidimensional world nourished by diverse sources of cultural inspiration. The movie poster, the signboard, street graffiti, studio portraiture, the devotional oleograph – all these demotic forms of expression inform her work, as do the more restrained painterly idioms of the temple, the court and the marketplace. Importantly, there is no hierarchy of sources or citations in Suleman's art. Instead, there is a kaleidoscopic relay of imagery. In Suleman's realm of exquisite illusions, both windows and carpets open onto vistas, and the elements of her architecture are liable to grow wings.
Suleman, who devoted herself to cartography for many years, now maps terrains that are shaped by family memory, fabular narrative, embroidered travelers’ tales and sensory excitements. Her protagonists seem to have stepped out of one genre of miniature painting or another, sometimes displaying the elongated "further eyes" of Jaina manuscript illuminations or folk deities from the eastern seaboard, and at other times equipped with the almond eyes prized in Mughal painting. The bioscope, that portable precursor of cinema, is celebrated in Suleman's art, its views into secret or distant worlds offering her a metaphor for what art can do for its celebrants.
Mapmakers Tours and Travels is a step into a cartographical otherworld. Painted in miniature-style brushstrokes, it blurs the lines between reality and magic realism, much like the streets of India and the fantastical landscape of the playa.
Vishnu, Lord of the universe, appears hand-painted onto a distressed wall upon a seven-headed snake (Ananta-Sesa-Naga, the unending). Beside him are his consorts (more than one, as a reminder of the multiplicity of love and identity that precolonial India held dear). On the pavement, flowers are plucked out of divine realms and brought into baskets, pomegranates are adored, offered and sold. Life exists in many realms. This piece has been hand-painted with a single hair brush over three months of devotion.
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