Manisha Parekh (b.1964)
A contemporary visual artist known for her abstractionist paintings and installations. Born in 1964 in Baroda (now Vadodara), Manisha Parekh is the daughter of two reputed artists of the Baroda School, Madhvi and Manu Parekh. She is known however for having a very different practice from that of her peers and most of the previous generation of figurative painters, in that her style lies at the intersection of abstract forms and a sensitive use of material. Parekh’s work is informed by studies of natural phenomena and a critique of the mechanical frameworks of the Modernist West such as the grid, the assembly line and mass-produced materials and objects. In her work, she often uses natural, locally sourced materials which have a history, rather than readymade products or objects.
Parekh was raised in New Delhi and attended the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from 1983 to 1990. She had initially enrolled in the sculpture department in order to learn ceramics but shifted to the painting department the following year and was taught by key members of the Baroda School. Parekh then received a scholarship from the Inlaks Foundation to attend the Royal College of Art in London from 1991 to 1993 for her second master’s degree and later participated in residencies in Germany and France in the mid-1990s. After her return to India, she briefly taught at the Faculty and later, with other artists, founded the arts organisation KHOJ in New Delhi in 1997. Over the course of her career, Parekh has held several exhibitions in India as well as abroad, and her practice has steadily evolved to reflect her concerns with the artistic materials and forms of South Asia and the history surrounding these.
Although trained under Baroda School artists such as Gulammohammed Sheikh and KG Subramanyan, Parekh broke away from the figural painting tradition early in her career. Her move to abstraction was due in large part to the influence of Nasreen Mohamedi, fellow abstractionist and her teacher at the Faculty of Fine Arts. Mohamedi introduced Parekh to the idea that the visual and material features of an object can constitute its value as a form, even without having it represent or symbolise anything. This notion went a long way in Parekh’s career, becoming one of the key ways in which she engaged with the materials of her work, and one of the reasons she stands apart from others of her generation as an abstractionist. Mohamedi possibly also played a part in shaping Parekh’s ideas of Modernist frameworks such as the grid or matrix as a way of conceiving an image. Parekh regularly subverts the colonial logic of the grid: instead of using it as a taxonomical or limiting structure, she arranges her installations in a grid-like sequence to show the evolution of thought and form. In her hands, such as with series like Whispers and Murmur, the grid becomes a tool for showing variation, narrative and history in a format that was historically used to impose a rigid logic of classification. On the other hand, Parekh also does away with the grid completely, creating images using organic, self-evolving patterns that suggest a slow and meditative growth, such as mycelial networks or clouds, as is the case with Memory and Place.
Through her choice of materials, Parekh engages in a critique of contemporary mass production and colonial exploitation. She has often made it a point to use natural materials which had a troubled history rooted in the British Raj, such as tea, jute, cotton and indigo to make drawings and sculptures that are themselves organic and not subject to repetition. This is in stark contrast to the established idea of the male-dominated and directed field of minimalism in the early years of Parekh’s career: a post-industrial aesthetic language of replication, neutrality and mute, readymade forms. The gestural, homegrown and non-industrial influence on Parekh’s brand of minimalism comes from older abstractionists Jeram Patel and VS Gaitonde. Another heavier influence has been sculptor Eva Hesse, whose work inspired Parekh to handle material more directly, in ways that were both invasive and accommodating approaches to alter its form. This allows the artist’s conscious or unconscious imprint to fall on the material — a trait that makes Parekh’s work intimate and approachable. Distilling her many influences, Parekh engages with abstraction as an exploration and expression of a material’s history, as in her 2009 series Under the Blue, where the use of lapis lazuli becomes the work’s most engaging feature. In the process of forefronting such material history, Parekh keeps alive the material’s site-specificity by referencing the original south Asian craft traditions where it was used.
Major exhibitions by Manisha Parekh have been held at the IFA Gallery, Bonn, Germany, 1995; Khoj International Artists Workshop Open-Day in New Delhi, 1997; Memory Membrane at Sakshi Gallery, 2006; Amber, at Indigo Blue Art, Singapore, 2011; Panoplism at Nature Morte, 2013. Parekh has also participated in residencies such as at Cite Internationale des Arts, Paris in 1992 and at the Heinrich-Boll-Stiftung Studio in Bonn, Germany in 1994, and in large scale events such as the Istanbul Biennale, 1999 and the Kala Ghoda Festival, Mumbai, 2000. She has received the Erasmus Award Hochschule der Künste in Berlin, 1993 and the Lalit Kala Akademi Award in Printmaking, 1991.
As of writing, the artist lives and works in New Delhi.
Nature Morte. “Manisha Parekh.” Accessed September 19, 2020. https://naturemorte.com/artists/manishaparekh/.
Rakhee, Balaram. “Revolution in Poetic Language: Manisha Parekh.” Marg, 2016.
Sakshi Gallery. “Gayatri Sinha in Conversation with Manisha Parekh,” March 2006.