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Bhajan Hunjan: Architectural art, 5/9/2008

Visit her at www.bhajanhunjan.com - which goes much more deeply into her thinking

Architectural art? No-one knew what was coming here: Sidney Opera House? London's Gherkin? Angel of the North? Especially when Bhajan, standing in front of one of her early pictures, started explaining her background:

A 19 year-old Kenyan Indian girl, she was subject to some culture shock when she came to Reading in 1975 to start reading Fine Art at Reading University (frustratingly abstract and of no help in finding how to make a living from art).
The position of women in art interested her from the start and she tried to illustrate this in her work.

In 1981 she became a post-graduate student in print-making at the Slade.

Print-making seems to have established her leaning towards tile-like designs and by 1993 she had moved away from her original almost gloomy style.
The patterns (and the tiles) became larger. Punjabi script was used to inspire some of the shapes.

Some works, like the one above, were built of individual paper tiles (mono-printed in oils and acrylics).

The the one on the left was part of a room-sized personal exhibition.

This led into dance-floor tiles (acrylic sheets) designed to lead the dancers' steps.
One is beginning to see the beginnings of the "architectural" element of her art.

Bhajan's work fits better in an instuitutional context than in the average home. This meant that she became more involved with educational establishments and had to be very flexible.
She spent some time working with children, particularly by involving them directly in building pieces of art together.

She had the children cutting stencils, and painting with them. Punjabi characters and Egyptian hieroglyphics added to the interest.

Her flexibility was tested when she was asked if she could produce work in concrete.

She learned to use white concrete with silver sand and pigments designed for colouring plaster. This can be mixed to a dough-like consistency, ideal for moulding shapes and for embedding small hard objects.
This canal bridge was done for Art Exchange, with women and children from 'Alnisa' a women's group in Coventry.

The "tiles" for these works do not have to be square. The photo on the right is at the entrance to Hexham Road Community in Reading - the work was done with adults and children from the Centre.
The talk included several examples of Bhajan's many concrete "paintings".

This detail (left) shows what interest can be buried within a piece (far left, at the Great Holland Primary School in Bracknell) that is already interesting in its own right at a distance.

This 'eye' shaped lightbox was a commission in collaboration with artist Christine Wilkinson for the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.
Another development from the series of coloured concrete "tiles" was a floor in the Belgrave Baheno Peepul Centre, a new multifunctional project which opened in Leicester in October 2005 (left, top).

"Peepul" is an Indian tree that symbolises knowledge and enlightenment.

There, colours were troweled into the freshly poured concrete as it was being smoothed, and then the stencilled patterns, based on the peepul leaves, were etched into the set concrete.

The backlighted work (left) was designed to brighten a dark corner: a watercolour, photographed and then printed on film before being mounted. Much of its interest is in the various interpretations that people make of it.

As can be seen from one of her recent works (right), her fascination with squares, circles, scraps of script and searching hands has not disappeared. Stencils were rotated and printed in acrylic, normally using monoprint techniques.
Her latest big project is the marble tiling in the new Slough town centre (now nearing completion).
Editor's note, added later: You can see what it eventually looks like here, http://www.slough.gov.uk/services/13995.aspx.
We certainly had a most interesting evening at the FCSA.
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