Throughout her career, Sumakshi Singh has developed a spontaneous and responsive approach to material and space. Her practice is characterised by rigorous explorations of spatial intervention that play in the gap between conditioned knowledge and direct perception, and in the spaces between physical object and illusory experience.1 Her works engage narratives from inner landscapes — of personal memory, metaphysical and emotive experience — as well as the history and physicality of sites.
Singh’s ambitious sculptures and installations are rooted in the intimate processes of drawing and embroidery. In the artist’s recent, ongoing body of work this has focused on ‘groundless thread drawings’, which involve a laborious studio construction process that resonates with Singh’s earlier practices dedicated to materially intensive site-specific interventions.2
Singh started developing the threading technique around 2015 after stumbling across some of her late mother’s letters. The artist felt a sudden desire to trace their words in embroidery — a technique her mother had tried to teach her as a child — using it to tie them down to the page. Ironically, once Singh finished, the words seemed to protest this fixity, and she began to remove the fabric they were on, allowing them to float in space like fragile embroidery in air.3
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Memories of her grandparents’ home in Delhi led to the further development of Singh’s embroidered sculptures. Her grandparents arrived in Delhi as refugees after the Partition of India and gradually built the family home. As a child, Singh continually moved across the country, and so the old house in Delhi became her only understanding of a constant home, with its familiar surfaces, objects, stories and smells. After its long history of hosting and serving the family, the home now lies abandoned.
The architectural features of the house have now become the focus of sculptural studies in thread and shadow, evolving into a series named ‘33 Link Road’ after the address of the old family home. Beginning with a series of the different gates at the entry to the house, and developing into threaded windows, doors, staircases and architectural aspects, the series captures the house frozen in time like a flower pressed between the pages of a book.
As the body of work has developed into the ‘Afterlife’ series, labyrinthine installations of various objects and threaded fragments deliberately construct interplays of spatial planes and illusory perspectives. Transparent images are subtly layered, built into voids, levitate across floors and walls, or find articulation through their shadows as they hover over surfaces. In a layered thread-drawing of brick piles, Singh also extends this idea of memory to the changing urban features of her neighbourhood, where old family homes are constantly being torn down, turned temporarily into construction sites and replaced with apartment buildings.
As personal archives, Singh’s thread drawings come together to reveal ghostlike spaces where rigid architectures translate into soft veils of memory. While the forms become skeletal, fragile and adaptable, they evoke the evasive desire of the artist to tie down these fading memories, to stitch them permanently in the fabric of time.
Tarun Nagesh is Curatorial Manager, Asian and Pacific Art, QAGOMA
This is an edited extract from the QAGOMA publication The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art available in-store and online from the QAGOMA Store.
1 Sumakshi Singh in conversation with Roobina Karoda, Line, Beats & Shadows: Ayesha Sultana & Sumakshi Singh in Conversation with Roobina Karode (video), Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Delhi, streamed live 20/2/2020, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfOmfp3IMGg>, viewed 18/6/2021.
2 Singh, artist statement emailed to the author, July 2021.
3 Singh, artist statement.
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On display at the Gallery of Modern Art during ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT10). APT10 is at the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane from 4 December 2021 to 25 April 2022.
Featured image: Afterlife (Drawing room window) 2020–21 / Thread / 182.8 x 121.9 cm / Purchased 2021 with funds from Tim Fairfax AC through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Sumakshi Singh / Photograph: M. Campbell © QAGOMA