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For Natasha Kumar, art connected with India is in her DNA
Coming from a lineage of artists, from childhood Natasha Kumar has picked up her paintbrush and funnelled her energy towards ameliorating her inborn talent. With a clear vision of her identity as a painter, she went on to pursue printmaking – etching, screen printing, lithography and woodcut at Camberwell College of Arts.
As a young girl, her earliest memory of India is from the time she was bitterly crying and clutching the sides of a wooden cot in a blue room in Mumbai. A big calendar picture of the Krishna on one side and her brother trying to pacify her on the other.
“The picture of an Indian god frightened me because it was so different from anything I had ever seen. The smells in the room were different from what I had been brought up around. That experience of being frightened but also very curious was very interesting is sort of where it begins,” narrates Natasha, as this Derbyshire artist born to a British mother and Kashmiri father relives her artistic journey with iGlobal.
Her travels to her native land timelines from every year as a baby, with her parents, to independently as a teenager attending family functions and now as a grown-up artist. Natasha tried her hand at capturing the beauty of Morocco and France in her paintings. At a certain point she deviated to a more abstract form of art where she painted house portraits and polo horses.
Since art school, India has always been a thematic base for her works for her heritage clearly defines her identity. She grew from the stages of drawing India like an English person who would be pulled towards the “beautiful landscapes, very traditional kind of views”. Over the years, it’s been much more of a “concentration of colour and mood and feeling and real life in India”.
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An artist’s eyes
With an ecstatic shine on her face, Natasha explicitly describes walking down the crowded market lanes in Delhi while going to fetch milk from the dairy with her uncle. The utter chaos that goes on in the streets is the true epitome of Indian life. “You really have to be there for a moment and then the whole world kind of passes in front of you.”
A lot of move from place to place, unlike Natasha who finds joy in soaking herself in the surroundings, trying to find her next subject.
The Indian Street Art series strayed away from the typical historical buildings and women in saris. It was rather a “contrast between rich and poor, the idea of modern and traditional life”.
She brings alive the sensations and moods that she experiences in India: “Those kinds of moments where the street sellers who come around calling with the little trolleys laden with chikoos and all kinds of things and you would stand there and stare. I mean it’s not really about how modern India is any worse or better, it’s just differences.”
The regional peculiarity in the lifestyle of the natives attracts her: “Twenty years ago, we did a trip up to Nagaland and the North-eastern states at a time when it was very difficult to get in. That was tribal! Women with tiny nose plugs, worshipping sun goddesses.”
The Charika collection projected Buddhist monks in their states of mind at a monastery in Arunachal Pradesh.
Her fascination with the traditional Mughal architecture translated into her selections Chhatris and Jali: “Architecture in India for me is what speaks the most. The big old palaces that have room after room of oil paintings and windows and darkness.”
Natasha often wonders if she would have been one of those veiled women walking to the market to get vegetables or carrying pots. Inspired by Indian women from the dry and dusty villages in the northern states like Rajasthan is her artwork Indian Women and The Three Sisters.
Style and technique
She has brewed the cultural Indian techniques like the Indian miniature in her Rasa series using distinct pigments to portray Lord Krishna and his gopis and the use of the local squirrel hair brushes. The cave paintings found in India are remnants of the earliest art. “It’s incredibly inspirational how the famous handprints have been carried through all kinds of Indian heritage.”
Natasha’s style of painting is close to realism where her works come from reality and are open enough to comprehend. “So, I tend to draw what’s in front of me and then everything is broken down from there. You can’t produce art that is bland and different. It’s got to have a story. Sharing that story is key.”
Her art compositions are born out of personal stories and connections. For example, she wishes to fill the gaps in her father’s history as a Kashmiri Hindu who was forced to flee during the partition of India. “There is quite a lot of emotional association that I can’t my head around because my father has only just started talking about it now in his 80s.”
From having rangoli designed a BT ARTBOX Childline to digitally printing her vision of ‘Great India’ on a delivery van like the eye-catching truck arts in Pakistan, her montage is very diverse.
“I love everything that I do. I don’t release anything unless I am happy with it. Behind every series of work there is a lot of work that will never see the light of day.”
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Pandemic and future exhibitions
Most artists have transitioned to online platforms for displaying their works while the galleries have suffered tremendously. “A lot of people have gone directly to the artist with the internet. The galleries have missed out on their vital commission.”
Given the restrictions owing to the pandemic, she is currently exhibiting her pieces online. She is eagerly waiting to physically participate at the Fresh Art Fair in Cheltenham and Affordable Art Fair in Battersea, London in August and another one overseas in Singapore.
For the society
For three consecutive years, Natasha has been contributing towards Art for Cure which is a breast cancer research and support charity for aftercare and education.
“It’s an important thing for me as a woman and an important charity to be contributing towards.”
Support for India is an ongoing charity raffle to raise funds for the most pressing needs and increase awareness regarding the situation caused by .
“Everyone that I spoke to in the UK with Indian family, friends and associations were feeling completely helpless. We were just bystanders watching a horrific thing exploding in India. It is a charity which gives on the ground so its money going directly to provide relief and help with things Covid. The key thing is that it makes it a more pleasurable way of giving and you get a chance to win one of 32 amazing prices from different Indian associated businesses in the UK.”
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Working part-time jobs in restaurants, facing constant rejections from galleries and competitions and hosting her own exhibitions to build her clientele, Natasha has truly come a long way to now being independent and self-centred.
"I have worked for a long time trying to do what I do. I had a lot of rejections from galleries. Over the years, I realised that you don’t need any of that stuff because you don’t need that. Those are useful things if you can get them, but they are not who you are and what you do. I have not got any help from the associations like the Royal Institute of Etchers.”
“Artists, writers, singers and everybody gets rejected. The thing is to keep going through the bad times and believe in yourself. You might think that you are in a bad place now, but it always gets better.”
The support she received from her family was the backbone of her career that held her high.
She concludes: “Even my Indian father was extremely supportive. And I only found out a few years later that my father absolutely disapproved of me being an artist. He was desperate for me to go to university and have a proper degree. But he just supported me rather than telling me what to do because he felt that it was more important that you do what you love and want to do.
“Believe in yourself and do as much as you can. Have a goal in your head so when you wake up in the morning you can say to yourself, ‘is what I am doing today going to move me towards that goal over there?’”