Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sifting: A Collection of Work by Nirmal Raja

A few days ago I had the opportunity to see Sifting, a solo exhibition at UW-Parkside of work by Nirmal Raja, my friend, fellow RedLine Milwaukee artist, and mentor.  Raja is an interdisciplinary artist holding an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who exhibits nationally and internationally.

Born in India and based in Milwaukee, Raja explores themes of cultural negotiation in this inventive body of work utilizing a variety of materials and media including printmaking, photography, drawing, and installation art.  

The Artist's Statement
"The intangible and the ever-changing are fascinating places to explore in my work. I often feel like I am a porous membrane through which experiences are filtered, absorbed and digested. My work is a response to life experiences that are distilled and strengthened by research in the studio and through reading. I approach my practice as a process of sifting and communicating sensations and ideas with varied materials and processes. 
As a transplanted individual living between two cultures, I am constantly trying to identify where and how I fit into a place and I find myself constantly translating. Liminal concepts like memory and perception of time and space are natural extensions for this exploration. I approach remembrance as transitional: how we add to, subtract from, and refract our memories. These fleeting and ephemeral moments are activated and brought to the present through material explorations and installation strategies. I implicate the audience in my installations by employing cast shadows and reflections to facilitate unexpected encounters that question what is imagined and what is real. In some work, notions of time, rhythm and music are explored, while in other work, different aspects of language - script as form, legibility and illegibility - are explored. I ask the questions: is communication possible beyond and outside of our conventional understanding of language? What is lost in translation?"

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a large installation titled Cloud Palace. As we enter we are immersed in an etherial environment of floating fabric indigo prints suspended over a reflective surface. The effect is breathtaking. One rarely sees contemporary installation art this aesthetically pleasing.

On closer inspection, we notice that the artist has incorporated  4th century poetry.

A wall of long, loosely rolled mixed media works on paper are displayed hanging from pegs.

Experiments in Time and Music, 1-7
Mixed media on paper

The rolled scrolls tease us with glimpses of the hidden layers of painting, drawing, and printed word. There is a feel of mystery in what is not revealed to us.

Long rolls of paper unfurl as they hang from ceiling to floor. Here Raja addresses ideas of measurement and proportion in relation to the human body.

In this beautiful photo-transfer work the artist deals with concepts of time and memory.

In Scribed Series, Nirmal Raja engraves on palm leave scrolls and intaglio prints on paper, referring to ancient book forms of Southeast Asia.

The works in the Scribed Series are small, intimate objects that beg to be handled.

Screen prints and hand-cutting on ledger paper

Other works in the exhibit include embroidery, and watercolors on player piano rolls.


The exhibition in the UW-Parkside gallery runs August 10- October 12, 2016. It is well worth the trip to experience this installation.