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Mona Rai

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1947, New Delhi
Lives and works in New Delhi

Mona Rai has a master’s in psychology and her abstract works indicate the mind games she is capable of playing. Born in Delhi in 1947, she has always remained a Dehlite. Her works are complex. They consist of symbols and patterns rather than clear shapes and they are often beyond the scope of simple verbal description. She has had several solo as well as group shows to her credit both at the national and international level.

Education

1969

Masters in Psychology, Delhi University

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LIFE AND WORK

UNDERSTANDING Mona Rai

One of the Midnight's Children

Mona Rai was born in Delhi in 1947, the year of India’s independence. This coincidence is probably apt because the nature of her artwork offers a freedom from the conventional and the banal. Her works are bold and risky and this is what makes her one of the most exciting Indian contemporary artists and also among the ones most difficult to describe. She studied and started working in Delhi and still continues to do so.

Mona Rai, Bhuvan, 2010, mixed media on canvas

Her works defy the written word and move beyond simple verbal definitions

Just like any abstract art, Rai’s works are hard to decipher but they always deploy the themes of space, time and light. It is hard to get an idea about the scale and scope of such artworks but Rai succeeds in giving the sense of an aerial view that allows the viewers to have a better glimpse of her work. In her soothing work Bageecha (Garden) we see a large expanse of green with what looks like man-made structure amidst jungle from the top. Is it the garden the one amidst the jungle or the jungle itself is the garden? We see here is a conflict between both which can be also witnessed in other works like Chandraprabha where the there is a clear conflict between light and darkness. Similarly in Himalaya we get to see inserted images of Hindu deities on a worn out background. Does it indicate a decaying existence or the fading strength of faith itself?

Mona Rai, Bageecha, 2010, mixed media on canvas

Rai continues to experiment with ideas and execution

Even after such a long career, Rai has been regularly experimenting and creating more and more engaging work on a regular basis. Her repetitive patterns and use of vivid colours are now complemented with physical additions on the surface. She is consistently pushing the boundaries and questioning the conventions of the medium. She maintains that everyone in the modern society lives “with a great violence of the senses”.  She is frustrated by the materialistic society and the lack of originality in our culture. This is what leads to the conflicts and undertones of violence in her work. The tension is derived from what she sees all over the contemporary Indian society. To some extent it can also be attributed to the nature of the city she lives in, the political epicentre of India where quest and struggle for power is natural and omnipresent. Her recent works like Verk explores this crisis in humanity through intricately crafted motifs. Similarly in Swarna Prabha, the panels made of gold with red layers allude to complex religious symbolism.

Mona Rai, Swarna Prabha, 2009, mixed media on canvas

Enduring commitment and contribution to the Arts

Rai has several solo as well as group shows to her credit both at the national and international level. She has been participating in these shows since the 1970s and is still going strong. While she can be regularly seen in the events all over India, she has also made her presence felt in several major shows in Australia, UK and Germany. Many of her works have made it to the prestigious collections at the likes of National Gallery of Modern Arts, Lalit Kala Academy, Bharat Bhavan (Bhopal) etc. and have also made it to the collection at The World Economic Forum, Davos.

Mona Rai, Chandra & Prabha, 2010, mixed media on canvas

The psychological edge of her paintings

Mona Rai learnt painting at the Triveni Kala Sangam for a couple of years but for her formal studies she chose psychology as her subject and completed her M.A. in the same from Delhi University. Her abstract works indicate the mind games she is capable of playing. Her works are complex. They consist of symbols and patterns rather than clear shapes and they are often beyond the scope of simple verbal description. Her works also define her attitude towards art. Her use of dots, dashes and streaks lend a very distinctive and easily recognizable but barely describable texture on her canvases. Interestingly she mostly uses square canvases for her abstract works which are otherwise not preferred by most artists as it is considered to be restrictive. However Rai makes this shape her own and this is also a testimony of her uniqueness as well as her willingness to move beyond stereotypes and conventional barriers.

Mona Rai, Himalaya, 2007, mixed media on canvas

Bibliography