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Through the looking glass

Maitreyee Handique | April 09, 2005

It's not often that jewellery is seen as an expression of high art. But as glass sculptor and painter Hemi Bawa demonstrated this week, jewellery can be a creative force in the realm of the abstract.

Her show "Apriti" (Irresistible) at the foyer of Delhi's The Park hotel appears to be a sharp-eyed take on the fashion world observed through scores of shattered glass. But her own motive is simple and direct.

"I had wanted to do something colourful for a long time. The idea is purely sculptural in form and not meant to be pretty in terms of content."

After experimenting glass with materials such as aluminum, copper, wood, and even photography, for over a decade, Bawa has now turned to creating beaded necklace "sculptures" and torsos out of glass scraps such as broken light bulbs, car window screens and window panes.

And the final quality that lies before the viewer is a transformed nature of the glass itself -- ice-like, rich and crunchy in texture.

"The torso is a structure for me. It's a base for me to work on," says Bawa, who attracted media attention for executing an 8 ft tall glass bottle for the Atlanta-based Coke museum during the 1996 Olympics.

For Bawa, one of the pleasures of working with a medium like glass is that "it's both tough and fragile and traps light beautifully".

Besides, there's also an element of surprise about mixing pigment with glass. "About 10 -- 20 per cent of the outcome is never known. There's a chemistry involved that I'm not aware of," she says.

Tracing her involvement with glass to more than a decade ago, Bawa says she attended a glass casting workshop in Cotswold in the UK. This was followed up with another week's training in glass sculpture in Delhi. But unlike the popular glass-blown method, Bawa chose to focus on the lost wax technique.

She says lack of good quality glass hampered her work in the beginning, and she began importing glass from Czechoslovakia. "But this turned out to be something like taking coal to Newcastle -- I found it restrictive. I was always worried about doing it right as the material was expensive."

There are, however, some gains in these pains. Interest in glass sculpture has been growing and she is constantly occupied with projects for hotels and corporate offices.

In June this year, some of her art works will travel to Tokyo for an exhibition while yet another piece -- a copper figure trapped in cloudy haze -- is headed for the Corning Museum in the US.

Bawa also executed an 18ft glass and aluminum sculpture for The Park in Chennai as she has executed projects for hotels such as the Siddharth and Vasant Continental in Delhi.

Recently, she completed a "luminous, bubble-effect" sculpture for the ceiling of a hotel based in Kabul.  Bawa says she enjoys working with glass as it's both unforgiving and provides borderless possibilities. "This keeps me on the road of discovery," she says.

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