We are discussing Anish Kapoor near Vandana’s house adjacent to the railway tracks. We pause our conversation as a train rumbles along noisily and admire the evening sun flitting through the trees. Sculptures made by Vandana, among them a pillar of slender Buddhas and a set of masks, are strewn around the narrow garden. Vandana hopes to rework them as soon as she sets up a studio some time this year.
A graduate from the Sir JJ School of Art, 32-year-old Vandana deftly moulds a variety of materials (aluminium, brass, fibre, scrap and clay) into artistic forms. Her works have been exhibited at shows in the city, including the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. A 14-foot-high oscillating doll, exhibited there in 2011, now decorates a garden at a resort in Panvel. “Sculpting is an expensive process. That doll cost me a month’s salary,” says Vandana.
The talented sculptor, however, has been supported by her family to train in the arts ever since she started winning prizes for her paintings in primary school. At college she was naturally drawn to sculpting, simply because it was “so much fun to make something in 3D”. Once out of college, she worked commercially with organisations, including one that fashioned miniature statues of Hindu deities out of gold. But Vandana did not find much satisfaction in these jobs. “Most people are okay to make you a business partner or pay you for your work, but giving credit seems to be the hardest thing to part with,” says Vandana. Discontented at the firms she worked at and wanting to express her artistic side, Vandana now works as a freelancer and has enough time for personal projects.
While brass is one of her favourite materials to work with, Vandana's first love is clay. Her neighbours often see her in the garden making life-size objects out of clay and think that she is like a grown-up kid playing with mud. For Vandana, getting a sculpture ready is like “a pregnant mother expecting her child.” While the neighbours don’t know whether or not Vandana makes any money, she believes that more women artists should pursue sculpting. She knows of female sculptors who have given up the practice because they did not receive adequate support in their personal lives, especially after they got married.
This year, Vandana is making a life-size sculpture of a pregnant woman for the Dharavi Biennale, incorporating surgical vials that get washed at the recycling units in Prem Nagar. She is also planning another sculpture that is about sex workers, and yet another that features a bag full of women trying to fly out. In her garden of sculptures Vandana is waiting for the South Mumbai galleries to take note of her talent.