national crafts museum, new delhi – 90 minutes at the museum

“A glass pitcher, a wicker basket, a tunic of coarse cloth. Their beauty is inseparable from their function. Handicrafts belong to a world existing before the separation of the useful and the beautiful.”
~ Octavio Paz, Mexican poet

I love this quote by Octavio Paz for it captures the sheer ethos of handicrafts.

Whilst art is pure expression, craft on the other hand is purely utilitarian. Shape, proportion, and colour—all serve a purpose. To be useful.

But just because it is useful, it does not mean it needs to be ugly or even plain. The craftsperson, since time immemorial, has imbued craft with a sense of aesthetics, following a deep-seated human instinct to create beauty. Continue reading

art focus – three dimensions of divinity – thanjavur art revealed

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What can one person do? A lot. Never underestimate the efforts of a single individual.

The above thought kept going inside my head, in a loop, as I was reminded of other feats achieved by individual collectors. Such as Dr. Kelkar’s mind-boggling collection of 21,000 artifacts at the Kelkar Museum in Pune and the Jung family’s quirky walking sticks collection at the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad.

Meanwhile, right here in Mumbai, myths, legends, epics, temple layouts, local deities, stories of Hindu gods and goddesses, and 1,300-year-old poet-saints filled the museum walls wherever I looked.

I was standing amidst two centuries of an art style unique to India: The Thanjavur style of painting. Sheathed in jewelled colours and gold leaf, the masterpieces from the classical cities of Thanjavur and Mysuru, glinted and shone in the soft light. Calm in the face of my hard-to-hide awe.

It would be safe to surmise they were used to humans being bowled over by their resplendent beauty. After all, it had been part of their job. They had spent their lifetimes adorning sacred temples and shrines, in the company of gods. Continue reading

photo essay: the hidden graffiti of rishikesh

What do “Across the Universe” by the Beatles, “TM Song” by Beach Boys, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan, and “Jesus Children of America” by Stevie Wonder have in common?

Okay. Let me rephrase it. What do Transcendental Meditation, an Ashram on the foothills of the Himalayas, the top pop bands of the 1960s, and Canadian street artist ARTXPAN aka Pan have in common?

Gotcha! 😀

The most fascinating permutations and combinations are often revealed in the most hidden places. Like the street art decorating the ruins of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Ashram in Rishikesh where the Beatles spent the winter of 1968 in search of spirituality and came up with a whopping 48 songs, a bulk of which went into their “White Album.” Continue reading

art focus – half empty or half full – a. ramachandran

Is the cup half empty, or half full?

This was the one thought which kept flashing through my mind the day I came face-to-face with A. Ramachandran’s art.

One of India’s leading contemporary artists, when Ramachandran [b. 1935], a native of the South Indian state of Kerala and alumnus of Santiniketan started painting, the world he saw around him was a sad, painful one filled with conflict and anguish. It was post-1947 and India was reeling from the aftermath of the partition whilst the world at large still carried the wounds of World War II. Continue reading

art focus – experiments with pencil, print, paper – nandini bagla chirimar

nandini_bagla_chirimar11

“Why do I draw?” Nandini Bagla Chirimar, a New York based mixed media artist, echoes my question with a peal of laughter, her eyes shining behind her neon pink glasses. “My art is a personal diary of my life—as a mother, daughter, home-maker and Indian artist living in New York—a lot of it is autobiographical,” she tells me, sipping her mint lemonade, her head slightly tilted in reflection.

“I would call them a visual form of my daily thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings are not ‘real’, right? They’re just there in our heads and hearts. But once I give them a visual form, they become tangible. I feel like I have created a new reality, a reality of the inner me.” We are in a tea cafe in Lower Parel, having just had a dekko at her piece currently exhibiting in The Loft, Mumbai.

Nandini’s work is unlike any I have seen before. It is acutely personal, layered, and uses a mix of mediums and techniques to create an inimitable form of ethereal beauty. And depth. It takes the viewer deeper and deeper into an unseen world, and as you mentally peel away the gossamer thin layers of Japanese Kozo paper covered with paintings, etchings and drawings stacked upon each other, it unveils a reflected world in ourselves. Through her personal experiences one ends up exploring larger phenomenon which none of us are immune to—migration, identity, relationships, grief, death, and memories. Continue reading

art focus – fold/unfold – sonia khurana

sonia_khurana1

Folding:
Fold, repeat, fold
folding—or doubling—of my thought into yours.
“The inside is nothing more than the fold of the outside”
: announces the fold.

The above lines and a cacophony of text, word, image, and thought spanning nearly 20 years meet me as I walk into the dimmed art gallery in a quiet bylane in Mumbai’s historic Fort district. The halls are shrouded in darkness with jewel-like LCD screens emitting video art of unabashedly personal, intimate, narcissist, and at times erotic conversations of the artist with herself.

I find myself thinking out aloud: this is what it must be like to step into one’s innermost recesses—where demons and angels reside. Where battles are fought between our limitations and desires, and the uncrowned unvetted winners bask in themselves. Continue reading

art focus – after the fall – dhruvi acharya

dhruvi_acharya1

Dhruvi Acharya is one of my favourite artists ever, and her exhibition ‘After the Fall’ one of the most evocative I have been to. Since I have not travelled these past four months, like the rest of the world, I have nothing new to blog about on travel. After writing 16 posts since the lockdown, I have no pending posts to work on anymore either. In the weeks to come, I will be republishing some of my posts on contemporary and modern Indian art. Hope you enjoy these glimpses into the world of Indian art.

– – –

Who of us has not felt the pain of losing a loved one—the acute heartache and a shattering of the self into a zillion pieces? Whether it be death, distance, or indifference, loss brings us to a version of reality smeared with the unknown, and a feeling of disconnect with the present. And of all the wounds, the death of someone we love is the cruellest of all. Especially, when it sneaks into our life and takes us by surprise.

Dhruvi Acharya, Mumbai-based artist, lost her husband Manish Acharya, an actor and film-maker, in a freak accident in Matheran in 2010. He fell off his horse and died of brain haemorrhage.

A soft sculpture monochromatic installation featuring a bedroom titled “What once was, still is, but isn’t …” is her statement of her bereavement: a personal and poignant declaration. It is the central exhibit of her solo exhibition “After the Fall,” post a gap of eight years in India, running at the Chemould Prescott Road art gallery. Through the installation, Acharya also steps out for the first time from painting and delves into 3-dimentional art. Continue reading

photo essay: tamil nadu’s colourful gopurams, stories told and untold

This is the part of Tamil Nadu I was most smitten by. Colourful and packed with gods, goddesses, myths and secular life, its gopurams are a peculiar feature unique to the state. True, gopurams or entrance towers are a part of temple architecture across southern India. But in Tamil Nadu, they have a life of their own, larger in design and scale than the overshadowed holy sanctums inside the temple complexes. They are pure art. And I loved them.

I visited scores of temples during my week-long exploration of the southern state’s temple towns. From the incredible Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai celebrating the town’s beautiful and gracious patron goddess to the ancient Pillaiyarpatti Temple in Chettinad, site of an electrifying abhishek ceremony of the god Ganesha.

From the Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram, the only Hindu temple to worship Shiva as Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, to Thirukadaiyur Temple on the outskirts of Tranquebar where married couples celebrate their 60th, 70th, and 80th wedding anniversaries for it is renowned to defy death!

From the monumental Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple in Tiruchirappalli, India’s largest functioning temple and a mini-city in itself with a whopping 21 gopurams, to the string of lively temples lining the streets of Kumbakonam where I temple-hopped from one to the other for a different kind of night-life.

Dedicated to various deities, one architectural feature yet bound them all together. Their animated, multi-coloured, towering gopurams. Continue reading

why tipu sultan’s dariya daulat bagh will take your breath away

Two-hundred-and-fifty years ago lived a man renowned for his opulence, and bravery. He was fearless. Nothing scared him. Or perturbed him. He also had a deep abhorrence for the British East India Company and its colonial inroads into India.

His name was Tipu Sultan, ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore. And his capital was Srirangapatna [spelt Seringapatam by the British], an island plonk in the middle of the mystical Cauvery River in present-day Karnataka.

It was to this tiny little, steeped in history, sleepy town that I found myself one day during my Mysore travels. Where.time.stood.still. And there were stories galore. Continue reading

the ancient art of tibetan thangka painting in dharamshala

I was first introduced to the ancient Tibetan religious art form of thangkas in Gyangtse, in the heart of Tibet. It was the summer of 2004. I was travelling solo through Tibet—I had hired a 4X4, got a driver and a guide, and we drove through the majestic Himalaya mountains for seven days, stopping at monasteries, stupas, and temples on the way.

A four-day visit to Dharamshala this June, home to the 14th Dalai Lama and his government-in-exile brought all my memories of Tibet gushing back.

The street that faced the nine-tiered 15th Century octagonal Kumbum stupa in Gyangtse had been lined with stalls. The stupa, by the way, contained a staggering 77 chapels, 108 gates, 100,000 Buddhist paintings, and 1,000 sculptures of the Buddha. In the little shops in the street meanwhile, ancient Buddhist silk applique and cotton paintings, which I was told were called thangkas, were on sale along with other religious paraphernalia such as prayer wheels and prayer flags.

All the thangkas, I remember, looked more or less alike to me. They were filled with intricate mandalas or exotic gods and goddesses from the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon, were framed in rich satin brocade, and had a deep yellow ruffle on the top. Many were dusty. Most looked old. The yellow ruffle, I learnt much later on, opened into a pair of “curtains” which covered the painting. I also remember they were frightfully expensive. Needless to say, I did not buy any. Strange, because even after 15 years I remember them vividly. Continue reading