Art & Soul
Afternoon Despatch & Courier
October 27, 2011

Soumita Sengupta catches up with artist Vinita Karim who talks about her love for art, what inspires her and how her work transcends boundaries…

Vinita Karim was born in Rangoon, studied in Philippines, lived in Stockholm and has travelled the world. But, she says her art is not defined by boundaries, and this free spirit can be seen through her work. She recently showcased her art at the Museum Art Gallery and got a great response. We catch up with her to find out her take on the Indian art scene, her inspirations and what it is like to be a woman artist in India.

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East, west, and all that lies in between

Ranjana Dave
The Asian Age
May 30, 2011

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Vinita Karim has traversed the path of the sun. She was born in Burma and spent time living around the subcontinent in Islamabad, New Delhi and Dhaka, studying economics and art in Stockholm and travelling across Europe, before finding herself in Manila, at the far reaches of the eastern hemisphere. Her travels across cultures and communities find their way into her work in ways both tangible and intangible. Her “well-travelled” paintings are now on display at Gallery Point of View, a contemporary art gallery in Mumbai, where they will remain until June 10.
Karim revels in abstraction. Her landscapes are personal figurations of the world that passes before her eyes. Papyrus, gold lead, recycled newsprint – elements of the worlds she has inhabited populate her canvases. Sometimes, they almost seem like debris, like flotsam that drifts from one imagined urban space to another. In other places, they are fundamental to the existence of her landscapes. In Reclaimed Settlements, a shell-like translucence is panoramically splayed across the upper half of the painting. Its multi-hued monotony is relieved by a bold strip of warm tones that horizontally cut the whiteness into two. Triangular forms, rather sail-like, drift aimlessly in the lower half of the painting, invoking the idea of trapped, rudderless beings stuck in limbo.

Karim has been exhibiting her work in group and solo shows for two decades now. Her work has travelled to galleries in Asia, Africa and Europe. With each new sojourn, she adds elements and experiences to her repository of “urbanscapes”. She started out as a figurative painter, but eventually found she was attracted to abstract realism and the poignant expressive quality that is peculiar to it.
Copper Rain, one of her works, truly exploits the idea of panoramic vision and its relevance to urban situations. It is a horizontal, six-panelled piece where yellowing chrome vistas, the colour of sand, pervade the canvas. Disjointed forms lurk at its peripheries; the sky is lined with tower-like forms, sketchy yet real, a world precipitating at the edge of disaster.
Karim’s work thrives on abstract realism, originating from lived realities and contributing to those realities by generating questions or viewing them through the lens of her imagination. She is clear about her strong grounding in contemporary times. “It is an artist’s job to observe the world around them to represent current issues,” she remarks.

Then there is Marooned, where the insistent glint of gold beckons you from its unassuming perch under a boat-like form, the object. The centrality of this object is underlined by bold black lines that define its form; the black also criss-crosses it aggressively, almost wanting to cancel it out and deny its presence. The unevenness of the landscape reinforces the painting’s dominant overtones of instability and tension.
Karim completed her post-graduate degree in Fine Arts at the University of Philippines. Her masters’ thesis, Artmasala, was a postmodern conceptual installation that used 700 metres of fabric hand-dyed by using dried flowers and spices. Using fluid lengths of cloth that flapped around the gallery, Karim hoped to embody the “borderless world of constant information flux and flow that characterises life today”. Karim’s migratory pattern of living is reflected and cited by the combination of colours and spices that she picked to dye the fabrics. Even the presence of globalisation is seen in her work, with three huge wooden spools anchoring the fabric that rolls off them — in these spools, she sees the “machinery of globalisation, or the chakra of life”. Texture and smell also play an important role in this installation, making it a sensorial experience that goes beyond what is purely visual.

Tripoli in Transit

What's on in Libya
March 20, 2010

Casa Lounge Gallery proudly presents “Tripoli in Transit”, an exhibition of paintings by Indian born Swedish, Vinita Karim. Vinita has held 16 solo show and her works are to be found in many private and public collections all over the globe.Primarily using Abstraction as the vantage point for her exploration, Vinita uses various materials like oil and acrylic paint, and print patterns from kalamkari wooden blocks. This shows the smooth interconnection between her Indian heritage, and her upbringing and life in various cities across the world: Stockholm, Berne, Khartoum, Kuwait, Cairo, Nuremberg, New Delhi, Islamabad, Dhaka, Manila and now Tripoli.

Her experiences in these various fascinating countries have enriched and influenced her art with a unique multi-directional and multi-cultured blend combining both traditional and modern into new and surprising possibilities. She has made her works dense through the layering of many motifs drawn from her unique exposure. She has exhibited her works widely including Switzerland, Egypt, Singapore, Philippines, Bangladesh and India.                                                    

Having started out as a figurative painter, she gradually moved into abstraction evolving into the evocative work we see in this exhibition. These imaginary landscapes are essentially rooted and inspired by her surroundings, essentially now in Tripoli. The timeless Mediterranean Sea, the vibrant harbor and the miles of vast surrounding desert-scape with many an oil rig represent the restlessness and eagerness with which this country is racing towards a bold future. The pace of construction and presence of cranes all stand testimony to this unique moment in time. It is no wonder that still blue oceans with ships on the horizon float under the midday sun, sometimes with fiery, sometimes with still & placid skies. Ruins with flagstaffs and totem poles open themselves to celebration mode, layering their areas with batik fields of gold. Distant hills stand majestically amidst carnivals of folklore and carnival spirit.
For Vinita, Libya with its arid beauty and complexity is another home where she continues to be influenced deeply: she transits willingly within a city itself in transit.
From 20th March to 3th April 2010.

Abstracted realism

Kishore Singh / New Delhi
Business Standard
April 5, 2008

Two painters look at a world from behind layers of meaning.

As this is being written, Vinita Karim is in South Africa, in probably the Livingstone national park, which in itself is not exceptional. For it is Karim’s peripatetic existence that will unravel next week when her exhibition, Elsewhere, opens at the Visual Arts Gallery at India Habitat Centre.

This, her second major solo in the city, is where her migrations and commuting have led her, past the mythologies and cultural linkages that made up her past works, to a point where she is poised on the brink of a world that, ominously, seems perched on the edge of disaster.
To arrive here Karim, who has lived in the subcontinent (Islamabad, New Delhi as well as Dhaka) as also in Stockholm, Berne, Cairo, Nuremberg and, now, Manila, has created and recreated herself, looking for a voice that is hers and, because she lacks moorings, is truly global.

Still, it is her changing oeuvre — which has moved across geographies, bright colours, layerings and figurative forms — that is important: serene though her “abstract urbanscapes” might be, it is the chilling nature of their content (and their titles, witness “copper rain”, “collective chaos”, “marooned”, “wilted”, “strip mall”, “spotty, dodgy day”) that are disturbing.
“It is an artist’s job to observe the world around them,” she justifies, a few days before the opening of her show, “to represent current issues.” That representation, aptly summed up in the pages of Newsweek, which she has read assiduously in whichever part of the world she finds herself, forms part of her canvases along with recycled newsprint, parchment, papyrus, gold leaf, acrylic and oil paint.
As the soft colours bleed over layers, she transfers some of her angst on to abstractions that seem to suggest the stillness before apocalypse explodes.

In a market where the figurative form holds sway, sharing space with Karim at the same exhibition is Nitish Bhattacharjee whose unusually large canvases are filled with an explosion of energy as he defines, then distorts, spaces.
Bhattacharjee directs the eye through a series of juxtaposed geometries into seeing within frames. Large swathes are emptied of a context, and then positioned so that the directed eye dwells, once again, on the chaos of lived experiences, of felt dualities.
It is this that is important, the abstraction that, hitherto in India, has remained neglected as senior artists continue to grapple with figurative imagery, while their contemporary peers work within a paradigm of Indian exotica.

“It’s almost as if India misses the bus again, and again, and again,” says a curator. “That’s simple, really,” explains another gallerist: “While some offices are happy to invest in abstract art, when it comes to their homes, people look for works they can relate to.”
Whatever the reason, the compelling urgency of abstraction is a state that younger artists explore, then give up on as the market feeds on monetary rather than artistic merit alone, cloning itself rigorously on an appetite of digestible art. In a sense, the Bharat Bhawan influence on both print-making and on pure abstraction is commendable in the last decades, even though it has been on the wane for some years now.
Bhattacharjee, who has studied and exhibited in Madhya Pradesh, has clearly benefitted from this, while Karim’s global peregrinations may have inspired her to experiment more intensely with the form.

The recurring image in her works, of a boat or boats, she laughs, is a symbol of her various journeys, even perhaps of her quest for a homeland.
Whether she finds one or not eventually, at least on some canvases, she has created her own urban environments, no matter how fragile or vulnerable. As one gazes at them, it is with a feeling of disquietude: for when the calm shatters, where will you be when the storm follows?

Global art by a global citizen

ARTMASALA: Multicultural negotiations outside boundaries
By Sanna Vohra

MANILA, Philippines—Because she grew up as the daughter of an Indian diplomat, living in Europe for 15 years, studying art in Sweden and the Philippines, and living in Egypt and other countries as an expat, artist Vinita Karim has been exposed to a myriad of different cultures. She calls herself a “porous” person, and it is this absorption of cultures that has led her to create “Artmasala.”
“Artmasala” is a postmodern conceptual installation made of 700 meters of fabric hand-dyed with dried flowers and spices (known in Hindi as masala). The fluidity of the transparent fabrics (such as katsa) draped around the room in the University of the Philippines Diliman’s Corredor Gallery embodies the borderless world of constant information flux and flow that characterizes life today.
The medley of colors and spices used to dye the fabrics represents the divergent influences on her art. The fabric originates from three massive wooden spools which, according to the artist, “represent the machinery of globalization, or the chakra of life.” The setup gives off peppery smells and a variety of textures so that the unusual installation is an experience not just for the eyes, but for the touch, smell and mind as well.
The installation is displayed at the Corredor Gallery, College of Fine Arts, UP Diliman until July 30.
Other works by Vinita Karim (tel. 0917-2073598 or e-mail are displayed in The Room Upstairs, 2/F, LRI Business Plaza, 210 N. Garcia, Bel Air, Makati.

Bands of Reflection

Manila Bulletin
March 9, 2009
Hiraya Gallery, Manila, Philippines, 5-22 March 2009

An exhibition of abstract images of urban landscapes entitled “Bands of Reflections” by Indian artist VINITA KARIM who resides in Metro Manila for the past five years, promises a respite from the gaiety of local colors and the trenches of social realism of decay and squalor. 

Her long strips of dark maroon and cobalt blue colors floating on caramel ponds are an invitation to the eyes to elongate their scales beyond the limits of the canvas or the breadth of the painting. The illusion of continuity of the lines places the viewer on a virtual spot of the earth to breathe in the emotions and thoughts laid down by the painter. One is brought into a threshold of a journey or a trek into the moods and statements of the finite world of society inside the clutch of the Great Spirit who did the creation. 

Having gone to many places all her life—born in Burma, schooled in Germany, Sudan, Kuwait, Pakistan and Sweden with her Indian diplomat father, and lived in temporary addresses with her engineer husband and two kids in Switzerland, Germany, India, Bangladesh, Egypt and the Philippines—Vinita (whose name in Hindi means “something you ask for from God”) moves her brush and colors the changing sites of the cities where her feet had pressed their marks. 

Far from idyllic sceneries, Vinita paints landscapes that are ravaged by war and destruction, urban decay, environmental degradation, social squalor and overpopulation, and the dynamics of socio-economic forces. She laces them inside the caramel of her faith, a faith that belongs not to one religion but to all religions of men. 

All faiths in one flask bobbing up and down on the ocean of seeming infinity: a metaphor for the stretch of her journey in life. Every spot on the earth has been her successive home, each a source of the storehouse of gentle memories. Developed countries fill her with forebodings that the horizons of human achievement are near the uninhabited wastelands of the deserts and the half-done towns. Do dots of their potentials take course through her works? Where will home be for a Punjabi daughter at the end? 

Vinita explains that the Punjabis are a group of people who live in north of India. They love to work hard, play much, live an active social life, and love the good life. Every Punjabi is proud that he has a prolific interest in education in the arts such as poetry, music, dancing, architecture, painting and sculpture. This heritage shows up in Vinita’s accomplishments as a double degree holder in business administration and economics, a master in fine arts degree in the University of the Philippines in 2007, and as a great cook and pastry baker.