OBITUARY: ANJUM SINGH (1967–2020)
I am still here deepens Singh’s investigation into the dynamic, unpredictable internal world of the body. The works bring into view the intricate systems, the currents, flows, exchanges—as well as points of breakdown—that occur continuously within this internal realm. Moving deftly between visual modes, from fully textured canvases to the ethereal, delicate forms that seem to float on paper, Singh attests to the flexibility needed to bring this rich internal life to light. Indeed, I am still here attends not only to the body as lived experience, as felt from the inside, but also to the way this experience is translated into comprehensible form—the way the body is narrated, pictured, made sense of. Calling attention to the power of art, like science or medicine, to plumb the inner workings of the body, I Am Still Here creates its own vocabulary, honest and revealing, the often astonishing world that lies beneath the skin.
“'I am still here' is many things at the same time —disturbing, bold, moody, reflective and playful —but mostly a life affirming experience."
Moving between two understandings of the body—one subjective, one far more objective—is an experience familiar to Singh, who responds in I am still here to the return and subsequent treatment of cancer first diagnosed in 2014. Making her body, even its supposedly broken parts, the object of her artistic attention, she casts light the similar process of objectification necessary to medical treatment: the need to designate, as in her painting Alien, some part of her own body “foreign,” “invasive,” somehow “out of place.” Often, this foreignness coexists with a fragile beauty—the delicate spread of blood-red ink in one of the watercolors both mesmerizing and sinister. In many ways, Singh adopts and plays with the perspective of medicine in these latest works: her name at the center of a hospital chart-like image reads as a kind of tongue-in-cheek artist’s signature, a way of asserting her identity as author as much as medium. Singh lends herself, literally, to this investigation, with the abandon that good patients are supposed to have—but not without resistance. Rather, Singh insists on looking back, on looking in. The artist’s view of her own body prevails here, and she depicts it as a world fervent with energy, with movement uncontained and uncontainable. The boldness and determination of her statement—I am still here—makes itself heard in the energy of even the most delicate of her works, a refrain that they repeat and carry forward, outward, onward.
“Anjum Singh has transformed personal afflictions to a more universal level of human experience in her layered images”
I am still here builds on Anjum Singh’s career-long interest in systems of order, movement, and exchange—in particular, the way such systems are experienced within urban spaces. Maintaining always an interest in the individual’s navigation of the city environment, Singh evokes the complexity of metropolitan life: the shifts in perspective, strange juxtapositions, frustrations as well as freedoms, that make living in the city so distinct. With the adaptability and wry unsentimentality of the city-dweller, Singh brings both humor and frankness to the contemporary individual experience—the attempt to find a way within the unknowable spaces that surround us, whether within or without our bodies.