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Delhi-based artist paints the spirit of Africa

- After spending 17 years in the dark continent, Premila Singh shares her experiences on canvas

April 30: An exhibition on African art was kicked off at the State Art Gallery this evening.

Organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the exhibition, African Art, featuring 35 paintings by Delhi-based artist Premila Singh, was inaugurated by litterateur Birendra Nath Dutta.

The paintings highlighted the life and culture of Africa. Dark-skinned men and women wearing traditional shawls and ornaments, men playing drums and zebras playfully grazing in open were the subjects of some of the paintings, which brought alive the spirit of Africa.Singh, a self-taught artist, got inspiration for her paintings during the 17 years she spent in South Africa, travelling extensively to sub-Saharan countries like Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar along with Lesotho and Swaziland.

The paintings showcase the Africans’ love for colourful clothes, intricate jewellery, music, dance and strong communal ties during weddings, childbirth, and funerals. They also pay tribute to the survival spirit of the African people in the face of abject poverty, lack of basic facilities like sanitation, health and education.

The paintings, which are a collection of Singh’s works spanning over a decade, present various indigenous communities in South Africa and other African countries.

Singh’s collection portrays different hues and shades of the dark continent, a young mother with her two children standing at a doorway in Kenya, a woman from the Himba community nursing her child and selling her simple wares on a street corner in Namibia, a young Ndebele maiden in South Africa smiling innocently, a girl child struggling to read in Soweto are all part of the collection.

There are also paintings of a Tshwene woman bathing in a river or a calabash (a kind of utensil in South Africa) carrier is unabashed in their nudity.

The brochure, which introduces the paintings to viewers, reads: “Nudity is natural among African people, where an unmarried girl bares her breasts and covers them only as a married woman.”

According to the brochure, Singh feels that there can be a lot of synergy between African and Indian art, a field that is relatively unexplored.

It says modern art has its origins in African art and European artists at the turn of the last century were very strongly influenced by African art and sculpture.

“The paintings bear the stamp of the painter’s close observation of the communities and people of Africa. There are a lot of nude paintings of girls in the exhibition but they are far from vulgar. We can accept them naturally. Singh is a very powerful artist,” said Birendra Nath Dutta. The paintings have a universal appeal, he added.