Sunaina Bhalla’s works are a dialogue in dichotomies. Through her art she delves into the paradoxes of human existence, navigating the conflict within our minds as we recognize life's impermanence while yearning for its longevity.
Her creations reflect a delicate vulnerability that stem from Bhalla’s personal journey of surviving breast cancer. Using techniques like burning, tearing and cutting, her artworks trace her memories, trauma and the ageing process, by purposefully destroying the surface, signifying the cyclical condition of human life. She encapsulates this cycle wherein our bodies undergo distress, heal and recover stating, “I first duplicate lived experiences in a physical form and then attempt to repair, remember and accept the natural and not so natural causes and effects of modern living and ageing on the body.”
Bhalla’s explorations of contrasts continues with the use of traditional craft practices such as embroidery, block printing and mediums like delicate silk and handmade paper juxtaposed with medical materials like gauze bandages, suture threads and needles, used not solely as a tool but also as a part of the artworks. In her work Synapse (2018), multiple cotton ropes are suspended vertically to create what curator Louis Ho describes as “a forest of wintry arboreal silhouettes”. As one moves closer to this delicate, flowing structure one sees the twisted cords pierced with numerous dressmaker’s pins. The puncturing of the surface here is symbolic of of medical procedures, where enduring bodily pain in order to heal is an unavoidable part of the cure. This is an omnipresent theme running across the artist’s work as it stems not only from her experiences as a patient but also as a caregiver to her daughter, diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at a young age.
In the artwork titled ‘The Flowing…twisting, turning and standing Still’, Sunaina incorporates used blood strips, which are a regular aspect of her daughter’s daily life as she pricks her finger to monitor her insulin levels several times a day. For the artist the needle holds dual symbolism, it is both a tool she uses in her creative process and for her daily, healthcare routine. An instrument of paradox it is capable of both, inflicting damage and aiding in repair as it pierces the surface of the skin or a piece of cloth.
The juxtaposition of pain and healing, isolation and connection, hidden and revealed is palpable in her series Incursions, Incisions and Transgressions and Staging, which features Bhalla’s mammograms pre- and post-surgery. Her treatment of the artwork’s surface through embroidery or scratching, mirrors the symbolism of human skin being pricked and pierced. Through her art, Bhalla shares tender moments, from her cancer diagnosis to the life-saving surgery and her subsequent recovery, she expresses her isolation of having to endure the pain of illness but also looks for connections with her audience who may have experienced similar physical struggles.
Sunaina’s art lays bare what is often concealed in the routines of our daily lives - our bodies, an illness, scars, emotional vulnerabilities, our innate desire to be seen. She articulates the totality of the human experience, a balancing act between despair and hope. What comes across so affectingly in her work is the acceptance of circumstances beyond our control and the myriad ways we navigate them, displaying our capacity for endurance, resilience, our ability to transform pain into poignant narratives.