Art finds a canvas in fashion as the artworks of the Singh Twins, Rabindra and Amrit Singh have inspired couturier Tarun Tahiliani’s latest collection. The London-based artists are well known for their colourful, pop-art large-scale interpretations of intricate miniatures.
The story goes that the twins became fascinated with Mughal miniatures while visiting India with their father, and decided to pursue a career in art instead of medicine contrary to their family’s wishes. The twins were also told that Indian miniatures are not relevant, and that they should be focusing instead on studying Matisse, Gauguin and Picasso.
Of their struggles, Rabindra and Amrit say, “We told them that Gauguin and other artists had been influenced by Indian and other foreign works. So, why were we being denied our way of expressing ourselves? When you live in a predominantly Western society, you are naturally expected to fit into the norms of that world, whether with respect to your social behaviour or the way you dress.
As Asians growing up in the UK we were seen as backward and made to feel that we were outdated. For them the traditional institutions of India, like arranged marriage and extended family systems, were derogatory. But through our work we have always tried to challenge that notion and believe that regardless of what people think, we should value our roots and cultural identity.”
Of course the twins’ art is now celebrated the world over. Tarun Tahiliani is the latest to be inspired by their work and has brought out an entire collection based on their works. So how does that make them feel? “We feel elated. He is a fellow artist. His material is fabric and our material is paint. It is inspiring to see an artist like him take inspiration from our work. It is inspiring too to see how carefully he has taken the essence of our paintings, colours, aesthetic and designs and moulded them to his fabrics,” the sisters say.
The sisters look to both the past and the present for inspiration. “We describe our own work as half-modern or Past-Modern (as opposed to Post-Modern). Many people think that tradition means old fashioned, boring, outdated and has no relevance in today’s world. But we feel quite strongly that it still has a valid place in society. We are generally inspired by politics and society. We see ourselves very much as social commentators through the work that we do. So we are very much into finding out about the latest developments, craze, trends and what society is most fascinated by and we respond to that as artists. And we try to create a debate around various issues, be it the ‘cult of celebrity’ or the war in Iraq,” they say.
Apart from painting, the twins are also authors and filmmakers. They believe that for a creative mind, the medium is secondary: “You express yourself in different ways.”
They add that they’ve been inspired by Tarun Tahiliani to explore a new series of works. “We are looking at the history of textiles in India. We might include something about the sinister side of the industry, not from the Indian context, but dealing with unpaid labour and slavery. We’d like to educate modern consumers.”