Delhi based artist Richa Navani has taken up the difficult task of bringing out the inner contradictions of the human mind using a language of geometric patterns and symbols. To accomplish this task she uses, quite dexterously, a huge variety of mediums and techniques.

Navani’s artwork is on display till November 25 at ‘Inhabited Geometrics’, an exhibition curated by Adwait Singh and the third edition of the Back from France series organised by the Raza Foundation in collaboration with the Alliance Francaise.

Looking deeper into Navani’s work one can see that she is addressing gender politics, existential crisis and sexuality. The beehive is an often-used element in her work, whether in sculptures or paintings. Deeply interested in the philosophy of the Upanishads, she read the comparison of the beehive with human existence in the Chandogya Upanishad, which holds that the beehive is like the physical body while honey is the human soul. A honeycomb’s basic geometrical structure also attracted her.

One particularly striking display is a huge round piece done with cowrie shells. It resembles a huge piece of knitted round cloth. “Something that most of us have grown seeing our mothers knit at home,” she says.

As an artist Navani is alive to the social milieu, the history and present of various struggles that she is witness to or learns about. During one of her three residencies in France, she stayed in a hotel which in the past was used as a dwelling for slaves. “While staying there for a few weeks I learned that the building had a dark past. That place had been witness to immense human sufferings in the past. Once out of that house, I had to paint it,” she says.

She painted the French house with red blots pouring out of it, which effectively underlined its bloody past. It is one of the paintings displayed in the ongoing exhibition.

Navani became interested in geometric patterns and symbols as a child, as she watched Hindu priests create symbols to be used in the religious rituals that were regularly performed at her home. Later she studied the meanings and relevance of these geometric symbols in life. Soon they became the basic building blocks of her artistic expression.

Navani expresses art through a variety of mediums and techniques: tin, bronze, papier-mâché, fibre, pearls, etchings, digital prints, acrylic and watercolours.

One can see something surrealist in some of her paintings. It gives her work a dream-like quality. A house being carried through space tied with a bunch of strings to a brightly coloured cloud, or another house which in the next painting is still being carried by a cloud, but this time dark and intense. “The colour of the cloud changes in correspondence with my life experiences,” she says.

Navani holds a PhD in fine arts from Delhi University. She did her BFA and MFA from Jamia Millia Islamia University, where she won a gold medal in MFA (painting). In 2012 she got a travel grant for France from the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, besides three residencies on invitation from various French institutions. Besides oil on canvas works she also makes sculptures, installations and video art among other things. In the ongoing exhibition you can see all these aspects of her art.

Inhabited Geometrics is on till November 25 at the Gallerie Romain Rolland, Alliance Francaise de Delhi, 72, Lodhi Estate.