This series, a set of watercolours embellished with incandescent threads and natural seed pearls on metallic woven fabric (gota), is a tribute to all the Jugnis –rebels. Subverting the language of Russian embroidered icons of the Madonna, these embroideries play on the language of veneration to instead draw attention to women’s agency. These works seek to emphasize that women are active agents of political and social change and that they hold up more than half of the sky.
In 2004, Varunika Saraf completed her BFA in Painting from JNTU College of Fine Arts and Architecture, Hyderabad followed by an MFA in Painting from the Sarojini Naidu School of Fine Arts and Communications, University of Hyderabad in 2006. In 2008, Varunika Saraf completed her MPhil at School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU. She holds a PhD in Visual Studies from the School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU. Her thesis, Souvenirs, Fakes and Heritage: The Making of ‘Indian Miniature’ examines pertinent questions about the historiography of paintings that are normatively labelled as ‘Indian miniatures’ in the discipline of Art History, contemporary practitioners and circulation of paintings as souvenirs and fakes.
Selected solo exhibitions include 2008: Tales of Our Times at Kashi Art Gallery, Kochi and 2010: The Chair in the Cloud, Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai, 2021, Caput mortuum, Chemould Prescott Road.
Selected group exhibitions include 2006: KAVA2, Kashi Art Gallery, Kochi. 2007: Emerging India, Art Alive Gallery and SA Fine Arts, London; Soft Spoken, Bombay Art Gallery, curated by Bose Krishnamachari and Meandering Membranes: A Contemporary Indian Art Show, Empire Art and Shrine Gallery, Kolkata. 2009: Unfaithfully Yours, Gallery SKE, Bangalore, curated by Alex Mathews. 2011: India Inclusive: Contemporary Art from India, Davos, Switzerland, curated by Tasneem Zakaria Mehta and Fabular Bodies: New Narratives in the Art of the Miniature Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai. 2012: Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, curated by Mami Kataoka and Allison Harding. 2013: Touched by Bhupen, Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, curated by Ranjit Hoskote. 2016: Dwelling, Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, curated by Ranjit Hoskote. 2017: Here be the Dragons, Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai, curated by Meera Menezes and A Preview to Desolation, Italian Cultural Centre, New Delhi, curated by Premjish Achari. 2018: The Edge and Excavation/Eruption, Shrine Empire, New Delhi, curated by Yashodhara Dalmia; Microsubversions Playbook, Conflictorium – Museum of Conflict, Ahmedabad, curated by Avni Sethi and Venkataraman Divakar and Days Without a Night: An Exhibition on Memory and Forgetting, Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi, curated by Kanika Kuthiala and Leonhard Emmerling. Varunika Saraf has been the recipient of prestigious grants and fellowships such as the Amol Vadehra Art Grant (2016). In 2012, she was invited to participate in Encounters, a Summer Research Academy program at The Getty Institute in Los Angeles. She was also awarded Visiting Fellowship from the Max-Planck Institute, Florence (2008), The UK Visiting Fellowship, Nehru Trust for the Indian Collections, V&A Museum in London (2010-2011) and in 2012 she was the CWIT Visiting Fellow at the Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge. Her research interests include the history of Indian courtly painting, art and colonialism, historiography of ‘miniature painting’ in South Asia, the dichotomy between arts and crafts, the social history of painting, art and violence, and religious nationalism and its cultural manifestations.