Unknown to her, there was a quiet storm brewing in my life when Rajul first approached me to write this essay.
As a writer I am a seeker and a keeper of words. I put these words in many places. The most personal of these have found expression in a novel and often these words make their way to my multiple social media platforms. That’s where Rajul, the artist, had been silently following them for a while. I knew she meant every word when she wrote: “I love the way you express yourself.”
The expressions over a period of time have taken on a whole sweep of emotions shaped by the many twists and turns of life itself. They have been by turns happy, sad and, well, darkly comic. The expressions have sometimes masked painful truths.
As women, we are almost naturally wired to do these things – to take the multiple stresses in our stride, to find the perfect balance in our often imperfect lives. Yes, social media replete with its images of perfect holidays, perfect homes, perfect families makes these things a little hard to believe.
Surely, nothing is going wrong, unless of course we are referencing a Trumpian state of the world.
Fact is … it is.
Women’s lives, in particular, are pressure cookers waiting to let off steam.
Whether we like to admit it or not we are, in fact, similar to the nameless saree-clad woman, her face replaced by a pressure cooker. This is the image I first encountered when I stepped into Rajul’s studio in Singapore’s Joo Chiat Street.
Often to move forward, we need to look back. As our conversation progressed in the stillness of the night, I encountered an early catalogue of her art. Three defining words that would go on to shape the rest of this long over-due solo almost instantly popped: Don’t Pressure Me.
Yes, I felt it that night. The Pressure. Yes, I feel it on many other nights. The Pressure building up slowly yet surely. And I contain it as women across the globe have almost, by instinct, learnt to.
That night, as I looked at the many unfinished canvases framing the walls, I knew Don’t Pressure Me was the starting point for this show. A solo that has been some years in the making. Which is perfectly alright. Art must always be a slow boil, in my view. Artists must retreat and find a way of finding comfort in their own silences and sometimes be troubled by those extended silences. It creates a wonderful creative tension, the kind I was seeing in Rajul’s studio setting.
The first canvas mirrored my made up face. My saree face actually. A face that sometimes even I find hard to recognize as I mostly drift in the comfort of a well-worn faded Anokhi nightie. The face that sits down to write is not the face you see on the wall. So, what is really this face’s story?
The juxtaposition of nameless women together with several instantly recognizable faces in Singapore was enough to make me curious about their stories.
Over the next couple of months, as the canvases evolved I found myself imagining stories behind those faces.
The story of the woman bearing the pressure cooker on her head intrigued me.
Isn’t she on many levels representative of many of us?
We just mask that pressure cooker behind some lipper, bronzer, mascara, toner. It is a long list for the working woman who often has to go from work to party looking like she was born to perfection.
As a mother, an entrepreneur and an artist, who straddles the world of art, fashion and high society, Rajul knows these worlds only too well.
She knows the familiarity of the turf that is womanhood. And with quiet grace and elegance she seeks the truth beyond perfection.
Colourful canvases anchored by an installation create the perfect space for reflection.
Rajul says, and rightly so: “We all have pressure cookers inside of our heads. This constant need to juggle, to meet deadlines; as pressure boils we blow off steam, we let go and we start all over again. Our lives are really just a constant balancing of our many roles and relationships in a world that expects us to be a certain way and perhaps to even behave a certain way.”
The stories unfolding through the layered canvases and sculptures do not just end there.
This body of work invites the viewers to question their own position and role in society.
Art is meant to go where other mediums sometimes cannot.
In picking a subject we are all aware of ‘Don’t Pressure Me’ seeks to question also where women stand in our globalized world. All this in the context of the multi-faceted pressures which drive women to adjust, adapt and ultimately succeed in the many things they do every day.
The many journeys she has made manifest themselves in this solo. Rajul studied art at the University of Bombay, and continued at Beit Berl in Israel.
Despite her many travels, her work remains rooted in the land she was born in. Even when veering towards abstraction, her colour palette hints to the richness of all that India has to offer. The vivid hues in several of her canvases remind me of the deserts of Rajasthan where you never forget the colours you see in the barrenness of the sand.
The lush canvases bring alive the many stories as we celebrate the many women who inspire in ways only they can. Sometimes they have a name and sometimes their stories are contained in pressure cookers, just waiting to let off steam.
DEEPIKA GURDEV SINGH has made a name for assimilating her varied life experiences into her writing across platforms. She spent six years in television as a producer and anchor of a weekly segment on books for Singapore-based television network Channel NewsAsia’s breakfast show, ‘Prime Time Morning’. She then joined Singapore’s leading daily The Straits Times, where she was the Arts Correspondent for nine years. During that time, she developed and shaped the newspaper’s coverage of the visual arts, museum shows, and even Bollywood.
Known for her relentless pursuit of exclusive news stories, Deepika had previously worked for The Times of India newspaper and India Today news magazine in India. On the literary front, she has moderated at several key literary festivals in Australia as well as Ubud, Galle and Singapore.
Launched in 2013, her popular Facebook page, Sadee (Our) Saree, has galvanised a new generation’s interest in the saree. In 2014, she published her debut novel The Red Helmet – a story of love and loss set in 1980s India. The book was marketed largely through social media.