Michelle Poonawalla’s art can be characterized as a departure from the usual studies of form and landscape to something vastly different, something very new, something very personal.
Her latest exhibit at The Saatchi Art Gallery, London and the Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, firmly positions her as an important contemporary artist in India; contemporary to the likes of artists like Ranjani Shettiar, Ashim Purkayastha, Shakuntala Kulkarni, and possibly others. Michelle has pursued her creativity and approach to art in a totally “out of the box” / “non-traditional” manner – a break away from the accepted norms that artists depend on to communicate.
Growing up between the UK and India, art has always been an integral part of life for Michelle. With a graduate degree in Interior Design and a Bachelor of Arts from the American College, London, her art practice has developed over time to incorporate her strong graphic sensibility and proclivity towards visual beauty, use of experimental techniques and an eye on the socially relevant subject matter, recently embodied in her large-scale, multimedia installation Introspection.
Whilst her art practice has been varied, experimenting with techniques and technology has remained a constant in her approach. She marries a classic paint-on-canvas style with experiments in mixed-media and digital mapping technologies, to create dynamic, three-dimensional works that have a distinct, contemporary sensibility. For example, in her project Introspection, Poonawalla incorporated sound with digital mapping and motion sensor technology to create an immersive, experiential installation that drew overwhelmingly positive responses from a vast demographic of viewers - from critics, artists, students to tourists - at Fort Kochi, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai and The Saatchi Art Gallery, London.
Michelle Poonawalla’s visual vocabulary draws upon her deep sense of aesthetics and eye for beauty, using vibrant colors and motifs, particularly her signature butterflies. The subject matter of Poonawalla’s artworks reference universally resonant themes, whilst the strong interactive element in her work underscores her belief in the power of art to create a meaningful impact in the world today.
Having constantly engaged with art and design on a personal level, her artist practice formalized with her first show in 2016 at the Gateway School – one of Mumbai’s leading schools for physically challenged children. She used her experience as an artist to put together a piece of art with the students, which was the first butterfly installation. Each butterfly was painted and created by the children. The painting was well appreciated by all, and the butterfly motive became a favorite for all.
The butterfly thereafter has been used in many of her works. It is a symbol synonymous with her signature style. The beauty of the butterfly is that it is not only a happy, positive symbol, but its fragile, delicate nature reminds us of the fragility of life, it also gives us a feeling of hope, peace, and freedom.
Windfall (54 x 47 in.)
“The Little Monarch Hathi” is a part of Michelle’s Born Free collection, inspired by the famous lyrics of Matt Monro. The elephant, one of the most gentle and wise animals, is one that symbolizes power and strength. The painting is done in a very special kind of a ruler technique that was taught to Michelle by her late grandfather, Jehangir Vazifdar. Michelle stated that the newly wedded Prince Harry gave a touching speech for his ‘Paa’.
Michelle Poonawalla also grew up watching her grandfather, the venerable Jehangir Vazifdar who was an illustrious architect and an astonishing artist. His gift to her was his Ruler Technique of oil painting that was fake proof. It is a technique that employs oil paint along with a ruler. Each piece is unique and can never be recreated.
Dragon Fly (51 x 67 in.)
In 2018, Michelle had her first solo show at the Vis A Vis Gallery in Delhi curated by Swapan Seth. She showcased her butterfly installations, video mapping, and sculpture.
Introspection developed on the artist’s experiments with digital technology, turning to sound and using a combination of audio clips from newsreels and ambient recordings to uncanny effect. Combining these sounds with motion sensor technology and digitally mapped visuals, the experience created an all-consuming sensorium. The result was a work of art that created an intense immersive experience, which pushed the audience into a contemplative space of action and reflection.
The work was born from the artist’s sense of discomfort and unease with the way images of violence and displacement are consumed today, usually in endless news cycles.
Introspection is a striking, immersive experiential artwork. The work leaves many viewers moved and affected, whilst inspiring them to take action in their own lives.
Ironically Introspection was asking people to introspect and think about the future for our children. It was an immersive 360 degrees installation, in which a combination of audio clips from the news, as well as ambient sounds, were used to create an intense, immersive experience. The journey through this experience began with sound, moving to the visual realm with a 360-degree projection of torrential fiery rain which was washed away by a cacophony of butterflies that flooded the screen, symbolizing the final liberation of the departed souls. Using fragments of audio clips from newsreels combined with ambient sounds and motion sensor technology, Introspection created a highly visceral experience that was conceptualized to push the audience into a contemplative space.
Today this is so relevant, it’s a time for humanity to stop and think, where is all this future going….what have we done, be it climate, be it violence, be it our way of life.
This world has now evolved. The sound bite evolved to include all of our points for Introspection for humanity as a whole. There is just One World, what do YOU want it to be!
Medium: Acrylic on canvas with video mapping
Michelle uses this technique called video mapping with art. Like in this piece called Freedom, where butterflies rest on the frame, and as the spectator moves towards it, they fly away. It allows the pieces to come alive; it can also be motion censored. ‘Digital Art is the last form of magic that exists,’ and they normally leave the spectator wowed.
The red painting signifying the world around us. All of the turmoil that we live in today and the white butterﬂies signify the beauty and fragility of life. They rest on the frame, we are all in this world together and when the spectator walks near to the frame, they all ﬂy away reminding us that everyone can ﬁnd hope freedom and love if they try.
Her video installations are particularly striking and the artist has come to be known for this relatively new technology in Art called ‘Stop Motion’.
The white butterflies gravitate towards the light, signifying there is hope, there is a light amongst all of the chaos of this world. A quick reminder to all that love is the answer.
The butterflies emerge from the light source bursting towards us reminding us that there is a way for freedom and hope in this world around us.
The white butterflies emerge in a peace formation, reminding us that amongst the chaos of this world, there is a hope for peace.
This is an abstract method of oil painting with a palette knife. The effect created is a thick impasto oil painting. The colors, rhythm, and strokes are bright, bold, and positive - symbolizing both 'Colours of Life' and a 'Hello To Positivity'.
Colours of Life
Hello To Positivity
Sketches for the Hothur Foundation
The Hothur Foundation, spearheaded by Kulsum Shadab Wahab aimed at addressing and uplifting of the economically backward by providing for basic amenities including quality educations, medical aid, maternity guidance, and counseling, matrimonial aid for girls as well as contribution to infrastructural growth through roads, education centers, and bus shelters, etc. The Hothur Foundation also partners with other charitable institutions and corporate setups who share the common vision of a better life for the deserving
Sketches for the Stir World India Foundation
Ink sketch inspired from the recent events around India
With the lockdown announced in India, there was a huge impact on the daily wage workers. The informal workers are the backbone of the Indian Economy from sectors across, be it constructing houses, eateries, cooking, plumbers to various other jobs. The shutdown turned these people into overnight refugees. Men, women, and children began journeys back to their native places. They walked for days under the summer sun and the night stars.
Stop motion is a very precise and tedious animated film making technique. It is also called Stop Frame Animation. The animation is captured in one frame at a time where the objects are moved accordingly. The basic process involves taking a photo of the object, slightly moving it and taking another photograph. When one plays back the images consequently the objects appear to move.
Mother Teresa, the eternal symbol of Love and Peace
Mother Teresa was a Roman Catholic nun. She devoted her life to millions of poor, destitute ,and downtrodden people.
She was a ray of hope to these people and in 1979 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for the work she had done. She worked for a charity and had a simple life beyond human needs. She needed to have a calming effect and a strong connection with humanity.
Mother Teresa as an inspiration for the Stop motion video, is reminded of the strength, determination, love & hope, we all need to be reminded of in our world today.
From Dust to Dust
This stop motion video named ‘From Dust to Dust’, is taken from the phrase ‘ ashes to ashes, dust to dust’.
We must always remember to be humble and know that one day everything will come to an end. The thought that we are born from dust with nothing, and one day we will return to dust with nothing.
The single rose disintegration as it is, beautifully captures this concept.
Michelle has since continued to develop her practice, taking it from strength to strength with solo and group shows in India and internationally. What sets her work apart is the compelling use of visuals and technology to create artworks that inspire a sense of hope, even when dealing with complex issues that affect society today. Her art will surely be spoken about a lot more and her motifs instantly recognized in the future years to come.
Recent Exhibition History
Introspection, a collateral project at -
- The Saatchi Art Gallery - START Art Fair, London in September 2019
- Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, March 2019
- Kochi-Muziris Biennale, 2018
Born Free at Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, 2018
Moving into the Future - Harvest 2018, a group exhibition at Stainless Gallery, New Delhi, 2018
What If You Fly, a solo exhibition at Vis A Vis Gallery, New Delhi and Spazio Gallery, Pune, 2018
Elephant Parade India, New Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur and London, 2017 and 2018
India Art Story, Kolkata, 2017
Khushi - India On Canvas in conjunction with Sotheby's, New Delhi, 2017
Illustrated and Published a children’s book, Adventures of Harvey Mouse Sleepover with her daughter, in 2017.