Amrita Singhal’s ‘Seek, Memory’ breathes emotional complexity

photo of Amrita Singhal's SHOH gallery exhibition 'Seek, Memory'
SHOH Gallery/Courtesy

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Stunning colors, bold forms and tangible relationality — Amrita Singhal’s newest exhibition at the Berkeley SHOH Gallery, “Seek, Memory: The Art of Amrita Singhal” is a visual playground of emotional vivacity and artistic excellence grounded in shared human experience, but expressed with a creative perspective that is uniquely her own. 

Singhal grew up in India, a self-proclaimed daydreamer, surrounded by a large extended family and Hindu mythology. After immigrating to the US, Singhal became a lawyer, but has now embraced a lifelong love of color and artistic expression with her work as a painter and a printmaker. “Seek, Memory” is a concentration of Singhal’s personal essence and an inquisition into larger questions of mortality, greed, environmental destruction, joy, memory and sublime beauty. 

The exhibition is separated into the two rooms of the SHOH Gallery; one room displays Singhal’s paintings on stark white walls, playing with angles of presentation, while the other room houses a silent slideshow of Singhal’s family in India and her gorgeous collection of prints, the “Rama Prayer Series.” The latter room is the perfect introduction to the exhibit, as it informs the context of her paintings. 

Singhal’s collection “Rama Prayer Series” is composed of four beautifully colored prints with the words “Rama Rama” etched repeatedly in Hindi. As described by Singhal in an accompanying placard, “There is a centuries old Hindu tradition of writing the name of Rama repeatedly as a spiritual exercise to strengthen the mind. I have absorbed this discipline and integrated it into my ongoing painting and printmaking.” 

The prints themselves project a religious sublimity, of something ancient and sacred, beautiful and visceral all at once. Her color choice is bold, sometimes washing over the print with a peaceful countenance, and at other times crashing in and out through gradients, textured scratches and golden scrapes. 

Moving into the main gallery, Singhal’s poignant use of color, expressive brushstrokes and deeply impactful conceptions flood the space. Her work draws stylistic inspiration from folk art, famed European painters, ancient civilizations and her own life. The art feels both old and new, transmitting states of the human condition that cannot be articulated with words. Instead, they must be understood through color, form and visual expression. 

Nature, greed and human mortality are all significant themes of the collection, starting with “We and Planet/Business as Usual,” which uses bright colors and contrasting strokes to emulate the fear and despair of the planet personified against the greed of mankind. Wearing ruffs, three figures lean menacingly towards a fourth figure — a blur of white shades rather than a person, whose mouth stretches open in an agonizing shriek and whose eyes are squeezed shut. The fingers of the figures are central to the piece, as they stretch up to the sky, massive and morphed. The painting expertly weaves emotions of greed, hate and fear together to produce a visual embodiment of the climate crisis. 

In contrast to this devastating commentary, Singhal also has many paintings that glow with a warmth of joy and serenity. “The Sunrise” features a Venus de Milo-inspired figure against a scene of emotional brushstrokes. Whites, blues, reds, oranges and grays all blend together in an abstract rush of sublime beauty. Singhal’s brushstrokes are central to the piece, changing the texture of the painting from one point of contact to the next. This technique is used by Singhal in many of her paintings, grounding her work from the perspective of life’s emulsified and messy experiences. 

Words cannot encapsulate the full breadth of emotion, beauty and empathetic experience that Singhal’s work expresses — which is precisely the point. The artist uses color, form, texture and movement to communicate the implausible and incomprehensible depth of the human experience. Her work is an explosion of emotion and relationality, charting the connections between families, communities, nature, culture, death and life. Singhal uses painting and printmaking where words fail, and therefore it is only through her art that her message can truly be understood. On exhibition at the SHOH Gallery until Oct. 23, “Seek, Memory: The Art of Amrita Singhal” is a must-see artistic experience.

Nathalie Grogan covers visual art. Contact her at [email protected].