Scapelands II, etching on archival paper
Exhibit 320 and British Council are delighted to present Sonia Mehra Chawla's compelling new body of works. Comprising Photopolymer etchings, films, and paintings in mixed media, the exhibition presents the artists' continuing engagement with the natural and organic world. The works are a result of several years of research and documentation of 'sites' in diverse locations.

Sonia's work is concerned with the construction of 'nature' that is defined not just as the physical world around us but also, and especially, the conditions of our physical, metaphorical, social and ecological interactions with it. The artist develops new tools and strategies through her practice that unsettle conventional wisdom about our relationship with and within nature. Such investigations take on a notion of turning inwards into a phenomenological experience of life. As a result, there occurs both a sense of disorientation and identification with the feeling one has of being inside one's own body. What interests the artist is how such discussions become a metaphor for contemporary or postmodern experience in general. 'In order to experience a landscape you have to lose your feeling of space'. It establishes, despite the most intriguing artifices, its grip and hold on time. In fact, the landscape simply seizes time. It demands the immediate deflagration of the mind and obtains it. Eventually, Scapelandsbecome places without a destiny.

Sonia Mehra Chawla was recently awarded the Charles Wallace India Trust Award for Visual Arts by British Council for her project, and for her commitment towards research in innovative Fine Art Printmaking Techniques like Photopolymer Gravure.

'Fluidly combining the phases of expedition, research, documentation and meditation in 'Scapelands', Sonia moves outward into diverse terrains of the natural world and simultaneously inward into the history of artistic practice, renewing landscape as a genre. Her project title is instructive: she inverts the two elements of the genre appellation, 'landscape', generating a semantic shift. 'Landscape' announces itself as artifice, for it does not exist in nature; it is the artistic imagination's proposal of a particular way of representing or symbolizing the natural world, of transforming nature into subject. Its mirror twin, 'Scapeland', turns this relationship between subject and artifice around, making the '-scape' the focus of inquiry, engaging with the internalized aesthetic concepts and art-historical categories that form an integral part of our lifeworld. The resulting findings constitute a territory that belongs equally to the cartographer and the psychonaut, at once geographic and oneiric.

The images gathered together to form 'Scapelands' act both as entries in a journal, shaped within time, and as a cycle of archetypes standing outside the flux of time. 'Scapelands' challenges the pessimism with which the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss regards the possibility of quest in the modern world, on a planet unified but robbed of its mystery by technology. In his celebrated memoirs, Tristes Tropiques, Lévi-Strauss wrote: "Journeys, those magic caskets full of dreamlike promises, will never again yield up their treasures untarnished. A proliferating and overexcited civilization has broken the silence of the seas once and for all ..... and dooms us to acquire only contaminated memories." Sonia Mehra Chawla's prints and video works elude the tourist's simple categorizations; instead, they record a pilgrim's encounters with a universe that retains a measure of unfathomable otherness.'

(Excerpts from curatorial essay)
© sonia mehra chawla