Aiyana Gunjan has more than 18 years of experience in the advertising industry, having worked with biggies like Ogilvy and HTA/JWT, and then as Head of Planning at Mudra, Bates-141, Dentsu and Law & Kenneth. She has also been at the helm of pioneering work in the specialized field of Semiotics, impacting global-local strategies, where she has tracked the socio-cultural shifts and patterns in India across two decades.
She would have had no time left for anything else, one would think. But, Aiyana, at 45, has done all this and more. Preparing currently to exhibit her first solo show of paintings – titled The Moving Finger – at the Visual Arts Gallery in New Delhi from October 23, Aiyana is indeed a powerhouse of energy.
“It takes a lot of discipline to be able to do everything that you are passionate about,” says Aiyana, also a trained Sitar player. “While my corporate life was high on action, my art is like a meditative process.” Created over nearly a decade and showcasing the masterful balance of calligraphy with abstraction, the show is curated by art historian Alka Pande.
The impetus to paint was there right from her childhood. “My grandparents were part of the freedom struggle. I come from a family of lawyers and so my upbringing has been in a progressive, culturally rich and secular family. At Modern School, Barakhambha, we had a fabulous art department. Thanks to my father’s lifetime career with Pidilite, my creativity was always encouraged and fuelled. The versatility of Fevicryl as a medium, the bond of Fevicol, art books, art exhibitions organized by Pidilite had always inspired me to explore my creative instincts,” she says.
Even at Lady Sriram College, from where she graduated in Economics (Hons), Aiyana played an active role in the college’s art society – HIVE. Taking up challenges comes easy to Aiyana. She did a Masters in Business Economics from DU and chose a career in advertising at a time when all her batch-mates opted for the more fashionable financial services.
She has a broad range of brand experience working across global and local brands like Nokia, Canon, Lotus Herbals, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Lavazza, Yamaha, and Dabur among others. After working with some of the best names in the industry, Aiyana once again ventured out as an independent Semiotician, representing Indian market on global projects.
“I wanted to explore new avenues beyond a salaried job. Semiotics is all about decoding the visual cultural landscape – how culture subconsciously impacts the consumer behavior and attitude.” She collaborates with an international network of cultural experts, to bring a cross-cultural perspective on a project. She has worked on several International projects like J&J, Pepsico-Gatorade, Nokia, AstraZeneca, and with UK companies (Space Doctors, Truth Consulting, & Visual Signo). Aiyana spearheaded the Ford Car Foundational Framework Project in India for Team Detroit (WPP) – Ford Motors, USA, (in collaboration with Visual Signo, UK).
Though Aiyana was painting continuously during this time, a life-altering event brought her closer to art, especially one borne out of spiritualism and a sense of self-awakening.
“At a young age in early 30s, I came face-to-face with death. I took to Nicheren Diashonin Buddhism, got connected to Mother and Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga. These experiences brought me closer to the depth and expanse of life beyond the limits of the logical mind. It awakened me to my creative soul. It’s my spiritual training, rather than an art degree that has empowered me as an artist. My art has been a very meditative and spontaneous process.”
Speaking of her art, Aiyana explains that she has taken the ancient traditional form of calligraphy and merged it with the universal language of contemporary art. She uses verses and lines from various religious scriptures in her paintings but uses the finesse and precision of calligraphy to give them a distinct flavor. “When you face death, the world of forms dissolves. This took me to a world beyond the forms and boundaries…into abstraction.”
She has earlier participated in some prominent group shows where the response to her controlled, flowing, meditative lines created using a calligraphic pen earned her great acclaim. “I paint, not to decorate walls, but to break the walls within. My creative journey is an expression of the spiritual growth. I expressed that in my paintings – the depth, the dimension, the perspectives of life within.”
For instance, in a painting titled Aspiration (2012 series), she has created bold strokes inspired by the Arabic ‘thulus’ script. “The triangle in the work depicts aspiring for a higher self, and going beyond the barriers of social conditioning.” Day And Night, a vertical watercolour and ink created in 2011, depicts the Buddhist concept of “Ichinen Sanzen – meaning past, present, future in one single moment”.
“In today’s time when we are connected to the world around the clock, there are indeed no time barriers. There is no concept of day and night,” she says, “the orange depicts sunshine in our lives and the blue is the depth within.” One of the most introspective works is I AM (2015) where she has transcribed the entire Shivoham song in English script in the shape of a circle or bindu using the calligraphy pen. In Praise of Lotus Sutra, another work depicting Aiyana’s secular and all-encompassing approach to life, was created on February 4, 2010, a day celebrated as World Kosen-Rufu Day. “The Lotus Sutra prayer is about spreading of peace around the world as per Buddhism and I think of this work as my spiritual attainment, having written the entire text of Gongyo (the Liturgy we recite) in four hours, in one stretch of time.”
Putting value to art
As a brand strategist cum artist, Aiyana believes every artist is a brand where each one brings their own unique perspective and innovation, in the realm of creativity and life. And a tangible physical product is created. “Just like any object of desire/service, the ‘art’ thus created has a monetary value attached for the purpose of market exchange. Nothing comes for free. Art pricing is driven by factors like originality, quality, talent, process invention, and of course the demand for it,” she says, dispelling the usual refrain of art being created for art’s sake. The only difference in this brand creation is that “here the creative brief is not dictated by popular trends, needs or desires of the consumers but by one’s inner self.” Aiyana, herself, has fulfilled this brief to the optimum in her very first art outing.