Plural Cultures, Monolithic Structures
Rereading of ancient Indian texts becomes increasingly relevant in the global cosmopolitan world where there is a trend towards celebrating the Derridian difference. There is, in a metaphysical sense, an India- Rush happening. Not only is tandoori chicken the 'plat du jour' and Bollywood finding a new high, but Indian philosophy, yoga and spirituality is the new, holistic alternative life- style. It is within this framework that the ancient canons of Indian Art find resonance in contemporary Indian art practice.
All visual arts are based primarily on visual facts, and on our responses to them. Even non-objective art does not function outside the pale of our responses to the visual. Our response to visual facts is built upon certain natural susceptibilities or inherent predispositions, and our sensations to shape, surface, configuration or space depend on them. These very characteristics determine the nature of the activities within a work of art, or its internal dynamics, and generate similar responses. These responses are certainly complex, involving sensations, interpretations and emotional discharge thrown into diverse circuits. What is important is that there is a correlation between our responses to visual facts and our responses to visual arts. What distinguishes an effective work of art from. a non-effective one is the presence or absence of this correspondence and the resultant feedback. An effective work of art can transform our vision of the world and reactivate it.
Art and aesthetics have an almost incestuous symbiotic relationship. The structure and the image was an inherent, yet dualistic part of ancient Indian art practice. Aesthetic enjoyment in Indian tradition was based on, and aimed at, an art experience, which took place in the 'citta' - the creative centre where the appropriate shape or form of an image was determined. According to Chandogya Upananishad hridaya aakash - the ideal space, is in the innermost core of one's being. When unified with citta, ananda is produced, and spiritual bliss becomes synonymous with aesthetic bliss. Both were attained by practicing absorption and inwardness. To achieve this effect the artist rendered rhythmical flow of creative power into his work of art, for he had to see the object with the eyes of the Atman - the Self. The ancients understood this link between art and aesthetics as 'saundarya shastra', the coherent world of vital images.
A distinct emphasis was placed on the artist as a ,subjective experience, and on the viewer as the receiver of this experience. This two- way process was considered essential to every art practice, and to experience this rasa or emotion, the ancients deployed a system, which laid emphasis on the canons of art.
Artistic practice in India comes from a well- defined lineage, where all forms of art were linked and inter-related. It was, in fact, akin to a science where formulas, measurement, postures, feelings were all categorized, sub- categorized and critiqued in texts. These texts were the guidelines of creative practice, the bible of every artist. The canons and ideals of Indian art as dictated by texts such as the Visnudharmottaram describe the 'six limbs' inseparably connected with a chitra, or painted image, in the absence of which no chitra is perfect.
'Shadanga' or the six limbs of Indian art, lay prominence on the basic structure or language of a work of art, written in consonance with the liturgical texts. The principles underlying a work of art intended to propel the spectator towards the celebration of life. through the rasa or emotional experience. The six limbs. that Vatsayana's Kamasutra speaks of. are considered to be like the two arms. two legs and torso treating each aspect of painting as part of a human body, complete when all aspects are present and incomplete when one, is missing. thus substantiating its relevance and importance to the work of art. The six limbs enumerated are: rupa-bheda, pramanani, bhava-yojana, lavanya-yojanam, sadrisyam and varnika-bhanga. These limbs translate into drawing. proportion. arrangement of line, mass, design, harmony and perspective. Emotion or aesthetic feeling can also be expressed through form. Of the six categories. as many as four deal with the external qualities of painting and can be measured objectively. The other two, bhava (emotion) and lavanya (grace) are subjective qualities, which are added by the artists intuitive skill.
The Vishnudharmottaram presupposes accurate draughtmanship. Once the shape and appearance of figures have been decided, it is necessary to differentiate them. The forms are meant to be articulated along the principles of pramanani and sadrisyam. Sadrisyam demands that the form be faithful to nature and not be lost in imagination. Pramanani is regarded by all writers on arts an essential principle of form, not only in regards to individual figuration but also the composition of the picture. Another essential quality is vamika-bhanga, which. in painting, refers to tonality of colour. in sculpture to the depth of three-dimensional volume.
The above mentioned correspondence is certainly not retinal correspondence as was supposed in the western aesthetics of realism. Rather it is an attempt to perceive the essence of form. The reproduction of the subtle embodiment, which is the basis of physical embodiment, where stress is laid on the psychic thought and feeling and which travels from the form to the formless, is appreciated in the fervor of the deeper feeling. Nevertheless, such a notion still persists in the popular mind, where the visual image is taken to be a photographic image and all digressions from it are ascribed to intellectual or emotional interference. But we know today that our perceptions of things are not so simple and uniform, that we have complicated modalities, each structurally different from the other; that our visual images, which come out of the interaction of various percepts, their interpretation and emotional responses, have each an internal logic. The same visual facts elicit various kinds of images stressing on one or the other value, like edge or surface or mass or chiaroscuro, and adhere to various scales. This depends partly on the nature of the visual facts and partly on the nature of our visual choices. This visual language and its sentiments depends on one another; where any homogenous sentiment is interfered with, a contrary modality its effectiveness. A visual fact and the visual image have various gradations of correspondence.
It is only in the last few centuries that the aesthetic and the functional have been condemned as isolated polarities, needing special efforts at reconciliation. In a contemporary society like ours where art no longer has a decided role or patronage, the boundaries between the arts is also becoming diffused. It is important in this context to reread our ancient philosophies and texts, which throws light on the universality of the subject and provide importance and relevance to the arts. The connotation and understanding of the arts has been transformed in order to place it in its context. It has become different, or rather, as the discourse of art practice is changing its application, it has become varied as the subject no longer demands adhering to the same, reinvents and reclaims the same principle. As grammar is to language, structural elements are to an art work, making us understand the relevance of aesthetics as an important tool in the making of an art work.
As we celebrate the Derridian difference in this post-structuralist, global hegemony, where the new idiom is dominated by issues of transnational cultures and an increasingly international sphere of communication. the figure of the 'other' becomes a point of conversation - a powerful counter force to homogeneity. Sameness continues to be perceived as a threat, where multiculturalism becomes the challenge to discourse. Post- modernism then celebrates the plurality and hybrid character of language where 'the poet's' corpse is in the capitalist's fish tank. There is such a vortex of change that we should not forget our cultural consciousness, our inherent tradition to sustain the sense of alienation. Tradition as a category in art is narrowly understood in terms of the visual language we have inherited, but the rich literary tradition that dictated the artistic idioms has, to a large extent, been overlooked.
This exhibition is an experiment in contemporary art creation, categorization and criticism, using one of the most influential Indian aesthetic guidelines. The exhibition will explore the relevance of these limbs in contemporary artistic practice. With mechanical techniques, which capture exact likeness in an instant, how is an artists' genius measured. Photography, video art, performance art, installation art, assemblages, they all require a re-situating of these ancient texts, categories, markers of creativity and artistic skill. Since a close analysis of the 'six limbs' show that they are largely technical in character, they might easily be translated to the modern artist's visual vocabulary and tools.
What the exhibition attempts to do is to find the relevance of ancient treatises in contemporary creative practice. Is there a continuity or is there a fracture in the reading of classical canons. Can seminal texts such as the Vishnudharmottara Purana find a voice or relevance in today's art practice? It is against this backdrop that the work of twenty contemporary artists is being showcased. They represent different aspects of Shadanga. Through their diverse vocabularies, different narratives and sub- texts, they express the rereading of the six limbs of Indian art within a contemporary context. It is but natural in the growth of any language that constant reading and rereading of texts takes place. It becomes an absolute necessity and therefore, Shadanga becomes increasingly relevant within tradition and contemporary art practice. Within the reading of Indian art which is embedded in the shastras or canonical text, certain key Questions need to be addressed: can tradition be applied to contemporary art practice? The twenty artists showcased here, in one way or the other, illustrate different aspects of the six limbs of art... Shadanga.
Neeraj Goswami, Paresh Maity, Sakti Burman,Jayasri Burman, Jogen Chowdhury, A. Ramachandran all emerge from the academy, but what really binds them together is the fact that in their works rupa-bheda meaning that the component of drawing is the dominant factor. All their works acknowledge the use of the six elements in different gradations. They also delight in the beauty and form of colour appealing both through the decorative and the aesthetic motion, blended within the classical narratives with affluent grace and subtlety of line. Badri Narayan, in addition to ancient narrative tradition within a contemporary format, expresses human predicament and emotions through piquant distortion of imagery which is replete with emotive expression. Both the artists are foregrounding what could be termed as lavanya and angikabhanga (emotive expression) in their works. Ajit Kumar Das. through textiles and vegetable colours, presents an interesting conversation with, Neelkant Choudhary the latter taking inspiration from the definitive lines of the folk art of Mithila. Dipak Banerjee on the other hand, walks firmly with abstract tantric forms and vegetable dyes exploring aspects of Shadanga. Jangarh Singh Shyam holds his own with his strong powerful vocabulary, which, while deeply embedded within the tribal language of Madhya Pradesh, presents an interface with the indigenous and the contemporary spirit of Indian art. In Jangarh's work the quality or element of line, design and decoration becomes increasingly important.
Laxma Goud, expresses mood through a hybrid imagery, here rupa is used in a more realist representation, presenting a highly contoured shape, which expresses eroticism. Haku Shah, lives in the dynamic intermediate space where there is a merger between the rich craft technique with the prevalent art historical practice, suggesting a mythical landscape with folk simplification, defining in itself a dexterous and simplified line quality. K.S. Radhakrishnan a figurative sculptor through his emblematic gestures utters the very grammar of Shadanga. Operational in Manish Pushkale's oeuvre is the concept of chanting or 'saamyik', his works, with the complex intervention of the brush give the canvas a textural Quality of the warp and the weft. Satish Gujral, the high!y experimental artist, complies with the classical techniques of fine art yet moves forward with the alphabets of technique to introduce a language, which is fully conversant with Shadanga. Atul Sinha a sculptor, blends rupa with utility and design. Chhotu Lal, the Rajasthan based artist, while continuing with the traditional Rajasthani miniatures moves forward with his own personal innovations, giving it a contemporary feel. Varnika-bhanga or emtoive use of colour and rupa-bheda and form, give Ganesh Pyne his unique expression.
There is one common subterranean thread which flows through the works of all the twenty artists. It is the rendering and re- evaluation of the ancient canons within a modern context. The canons can be translated, transformed and transfigured within, the contemporary idiom by the present day visual artists who used their own personal vocabulary and tools. All the artists in the exhibition have translated and transformed 'Shadanga' and placed it in every work of art, whether consciously or unconsciously.