Praneet Soi was born in Kolkata in 1971. He left Bengal for the west coast of the country in 1990 where he studied painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharajah Sayajirao University, Baroda. The liberalized economic policies of the 1990's had ushered in an era of globalization and upon completing his Bachelor's and Master’s degrees, Soi worked as a visualizer within the advertising industry in New Delhi. In 1999 he left for California where he attended the University of California at San Diego on a scholarship and received his second master’s degree in the visual arts. In 2001 he was selected to the summer residency at Skowhegan, Maine.
Soi moved to the Netherlands in 2002 to attend the Rijksakademie van beeldende Kunsten, a two-year international residency program for artists and currently divides his time between Amsterdam and Kolkata. This oscillatory movement impacts his practice. Soi identifies over time, patterns that emerge from an investigation of his extended social and economic landscape. In California it was the miniaturizing nature of the vast, undulating, suburban vista that caught his eye.
Moving to Amsterdam, media reportage of unrest in the Middle-East, Pakistan and Afghanistan in the events following September 11th led to a series of miniature paintings on terrorism and expanding from there, paintings of the human body. Site-specific wall paintings also emerge from these sources who’s further investigation led Soi to create an archive that traces his relationship with the media.
Since 2008 in Kumartuli, North Kolkata, Soi’s documentation of small-scale factories and one-room workshops has been an ongoing activity. Kumartuli is historically home to a clan of potters that have worked with religious iconography and sculpture-making and has over time given way to micro-workshops and warehouses. Through the inherent politics of labor and economic transition that manifests itself in a series of works titled “Notes on Labor”, Soi delves into a pluralistic representation of this complex, historic and yet relevant site, through a series of slide-shows, miniature paintings and video.
Soi first visited the city of Srinagar in Kashmir in 2010. He documented extensively the historic Sufi shrines in the city (Dastagir Pir has since burnt down and is currently being rebuilt) and met with local craftsmen. He returned to Srinagar in the spring of 2014 and embedded himself within an artisan’s studio, working with traditional patterns and motifs in the making of experimental compositions. Insurgency-scarred and a politically sensitive issue for the rival nations of India and Pakistan and its own ethnically divided population for over 5 decades, Kashmir has faced the brunt of cultural and social deprivation that comes from being one of the most militarized regions in the world.
Soi used the time spent in Kashmir to explore the disappearing traces of Sufi culture and the related migration, over the course of history, of ancient patterns and forms from Iran into the sub-continent. The migratory nature of the works emerging from Kashmir could perhaps be linked to his family’s exile from what became Pakistan when the country was partitioned in 1947. His grandfather moved to Delhi before finally settling in Kolkata in 1950.
Interactive processes are important to Soi. He designed drawing-machines that would allow him to share his work process with an audience. The “Astatic Machines”, inspired by Paul Klee’s “Pedagogical Sketchbook” for students at the Bauhaus, emphasize the importance of drawing in Soi's practice. The artist, in partnership with the Mondrian Foundation, has recently set up in Kolkata a pilot residency for artists and practitioners. A studio program that privileges a material approach to making art while using the city as a filter for experience.
In June 2018 a solo exhibition, "Third Factory - from Kashmir to Lisbon via Caldas', opened at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, Portugal. In 2017 'Notes on Labour' opened at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai and 'Pattern - The Falling Figure and Other Stories' at CCA Derry/Londonderry. In 2016 Soi participated in the Kochi-Muziris Biennales and displayed work within the project-space of the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven.
In 2015 the artist was granted a fellowship at the Smithsonian Institute where he spent a month studying illuminated manuscripts at the the Sackler and Freer Galleries in Washington DC. This was followed in 2017 by a research period at the Chester Beatty Library while on a residency at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin. in 2017 and 2018 Soi explored certain artifacts within the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum's collection in Lisbon.
Soi’s works reside in important collections in Europe and India. These include the permanent collections of the Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi, The Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. In 2014 Soi was commissioned to create a permanent work for the HCL headquarters in Chennai. In 2011 he was one of 4 artists representing India at the Indian Pavilion in Venice.
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