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Arpana Caur

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1954, New Delhi
Lives and works in New Delhi

Arpana Caur is a self-taught painter whose paintings speak of social, political, and environmental issues bringing up images of pain and despair as well as strength and compassion. Her paintings reflect images of spiritual masters such as Guru Nanak, The Buddha, yogis and many other gurus. She has collaborated with folk and tribal artists and studies miniature paintings. Along with Ajeet Caur she directs the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature at Siri Fort and New Delhi.



Greater London Council Grant for Advanced Study in Painting, St. Martin School of Art, London (Did not complete the course)


M.A Literature, Delhi University

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Caur's history influenced in creation of her unique aesthetic and style

Caur's style can be seen as a continuation of Amrita Sher-Gil style of painting, feminine and feminist, polpulated with portraits of women. Her woek responds to the events and sorroundings of her life she spent in Patel Nagar. Coming from a Punjabi ethnicity, the violence of partition and the pathos of the literature of Amrita Pritam and Krishna Sobti finds itself expressed in her works.

Caur illustrated a book titled Nanak: The Guru, the visuals for which were made in her trademark style of stocky figures with strong folk motif underpinnings. The colours are rich and textured to complement the elegant pared down text. Arpana's paintings are inspired by the nineteenth-century miniature tradition of the Pahari styles of the Punjab Hills. They include the bold Basohli school, and the romantic Kangra and Guler schools that produced some of the most lyrical paintings in Indian art. She collaborates with folk artist Lakshmi Narayan Pandey, as she believes that by collaborating with folk expression, she can re-forge links with the traditional base of India's artistic expression, the folk art of the peasantry and link her art with the roots of the country.

Nanak: The Guru by Mala Dayal, Illustrations by Arpana Caur, Rupa Books, 48 pages.

Punjabi myths and folklore fuel her art

The works of Arpana Caur are splashed with colours of Punjab and folklore of the land emerges in her series on Guru Nanak and Sohni-Mahiwal. On a visit to Chandigarh for a seminar on folk art and literature organised by the Saarc Foundation, Arpana says, "During the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a number of Pahari artists accepted his patronage, and the plains of Punjab in Lahore, Patiala and Amritsar became home to a flourishing art scene. After Ranjit Singh, Patiala became a centre of patronage. Many religious documents were painted too, most famous being the Janam-Sakhi, a compilation of episodes of life of Guru Nanak. It saddens me that not many in Punjab are aware of the unique heritage of Punjab."

Arpana Caur, Changing Times, 2002, oil on canvas, 58 x 62".

Caur's works over the last two decades reflect prevalent social issues

Over the last two decades Arpana's works have covered a wide range of social issues. Graceful figures -usually female - flow against vast oil canvases filled with bold yellows, reds, blacks and mystical blues. Powerful symbols of bones and swords talk of the violence and inequalities of our world, and broken-backed figures of laborers and starving children speak of the cruelty of poverty. Her painting titled "Widows of Vrindavan", is an example of her works that have become symbols of empowerment. She often displays the 'disowned' in her paintings leaving the viewer to think about the cause.

Arpana Caur, Where are all the flowers gone? (triptych), 1995, oil on canvas, 144 x 72".

Her use of colours in paintings covers a whole range of human feelings

Arpana's use of color in her paintings sets up moods that encompass the whole range of human feelings from ecstatic bliss to despair that in turn draw upon rasa, aesthetic emotional sentiments that are experienced upon seeing a moving work of art, hearing sublime music, or being stirred by the exquisite movements of dance. In her painting of Sohni Mahiwal she has used a vibrant palette that immediately draws the viewer into the world of two lovers and the longing that occurs when lovers are apart. It is the unrequited universal love of the ages of Laila and Majnu, of Heer and Ranjha, of Sassi and Punnu, and of Romeo and Juliet.

Arpana Caur depicts the legend of Sohni Mahiwal through a woman's eyes.

Strong female characters dominate Caur's works

Arpana Caur's paintings are based on socially relevant subject and are dominated by strong female characters. She states "But the women in my paintings are sturdy, women you see in your homes or your neighbourhood. There is no hint of sexuality. Women and nature are both symbiotically tied in a circle. I believe women represent the latent force, which has not been explored properly even today. They can counter the challenges of industralisation and extreme urbanisation. Inherently, they have a power to renew and regenerate." In her paintings women usually have long hands. This symbolizes the power and strength of the main female characters that appear in her paintings. Her paintings are not only representation of our modern state through bodies that portray strength and agony but also as means of release of old traditions.

Arpana Caur, Green yogini, from the series Day and Night.