Ranjani Shettar, artist

Ranjani Shettar, artist

Ranjani Shettar is better known to an international audience than an Indian. The Bangalore born and bred 34-year-old was featured at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 2010 in a historical survey of drawing through the 20th century alongside the who’s who of the art world from Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder, George Braque, Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso. She’s exhibited at biennales, art fairs, and in other museums across the world. She has just wrapped up sending off a body of work for a solo show taking place at the National Art Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia later this year.

Despite this international profile, the young sculptor prefers to live in the countryside a fair distance away from Bangalore’s traffic, noise and crowd. That also means she is difficult to reach on phone or the net. Ranjani loves spending time with nature, which is her inspiration. No ordinary representation of a bark of wood or four legged creatures for her. She likes to capture in three dimensions abstract notions like the ‘Scent of a Sound’ (title of one of her works), gentle breeze, chattering of crickets, or light and shadow as in a work titled ‘Aureole’. She loves suspending her sculptures, floating them above your head to give an experience of walking through her porous creations.  She says: “I find myself thinking of impossible things to happen and in the end things do happen as I envisaged.” Some are gravity-defying ideas, like installing a wing-like 20 kg metal object resting against the wall on just two nails (in Aureole). Also usually her projects are large scale, room size works, making it possible for her to create just about five or fewer works a year.

Ranjani always had a peculiar interest in things of ordinary nature that are used for everyday activities like ropes, book binding or blacksmithing. Elaborating on her fascination she says, “When I see lacquered wood toys I see the level of perfection and skill and I feel this refinement comes from generations of practice. These things inspire the technical side of my art work.” The range of material she uses includes beeswax, metals, fiber, wood, and even scrap metal.

The textures, colours or the tenacity and flexibility of a material, a traditional art process or the memory of an experience from the past are the foundations of Ranjani’s works. “When I finish a project I wonder what to do next. Each time I finish I have to start from scratch. Then that finishes and you get inspired to do something else. It is a beautiful moment when you come upon something that you think is impossible and yet you make it possible.”

Ranjani’s meteoric rise in a brief span of 10 years is like a fairy tale. “I feel fortunate that things fell in place. I always knew I wanted to do art. I didn’t know how it worked. There were no role models among people I knew closely. Fortunately things happened,” she says rather modestly. Ranjani turns the intangibles to tangibles and that’s something one can say about her career graph as well as for the art she makes.

Jasmine Shah Varma
Art writer and curator
Published in Elle, November 2011