Interpreting the 'Navarasas'
Though the concept of rasa has influenced art form in India, how can it be applied to the contemporary art scene? Major Indian artists rework this ancient principle at a forthcoming exhibition of visual art in New Delhi. ASHRAFI S. BHAGAT writes.
"Couple", oil on board, Neeraj Goswami
THE appreciation and enjoyment of the abstract qualities in an artwork or object, particularly the expression of emotions, experiences, and sentiments is a highly individuated process. Within the context of modernity, the autonomous artist, as a creative being, explores varying moods, passion, sentiments and emotions. To do this, he mediates through symbols, metaphors, allegories and metonymy to transmute his experiences of the phenomenal world.
At the other end of the scale is the viewer who, as an appreciator, holds valence of correspondence through which the ideological aesthetics translates according to his experiences. This transfer of experiences from one individual to another through the medium of visual art establishes critical anchorage in which the creator and the receiver seem to play a manifest role.
"Objects of desire", acrylic on canvas, Baiju Parthan
Within the Indian context these experiences of emotions by the viewer as he traverses through the art object as a flanneur is akin to rasa. The above prelude is for the confluence of two powerful arts namely the exhibition of visual art titled "Navarasa" curated by Dr. Alka Pande and mounted at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To complement the art works is the performance of traditional dance forms by leading danseuses of the country on August 12.
The works will be displayed from August 12-15 and has been co-organised by Apparao Galleries, Chennai, and the Voluntary Health Association of India as a fund-raiser for the empowerment of the artisans and craftsmen of the region of Bhuj, Gujarat.
The participating artists are stalwarts in their field and well-established names. They include Paresh Maity, Jayshree Burman, Anjolie Ela Menon, Thota Vaikuntam, Harshavardhana, J. Swaminathan, Neeraj Goswami, Arpana Caur, Ramanando Bandopadhyay, K. Muralidharan, Laxma Goud, Amit Ambalal, Sunil Das, Vasundara Tiwari, Baiju Parthan, Himmat Shah, S.K. Radhakrishnan, S. Nandagopal, Paritosh Sen, Suhas Roy, Subodh Gupta, Jatin Das, Ebenezer Sunder Singh, Jitish Kallat, Jogen Chowdhary, S.H. Raza, Shibu Natesan, Sidharth, Anju Dodia, Arpita Singh, Atul Dodia and Arup Das.
The constellation of these artists and their painted and sculpted expressions is impressive in its rhetoric and spectacle. More so as the theme revolves around the ubiquitous concept of rasa an Indian concept and ideology based on emotions. What makes this exhibition particularly interesting in the post-modern Indian context is the conscious interrogation of this ancient text and its fundamental concepts that has been mapped on to contemporary situations by the experiences of the participating artists.
The selection of paintings on display allows for a definition of the categories of rasa. The artist transcribes, through his contemporary sensibility, his deeply felt emotions evoked as a consequence of particular circumstances or moment.
"Shringer", water colour, Jayashree Burman
In the pictorial canonical tradition Sringara Rasa or the erotic was popular allowing for the delineation of the female form that was the nayika or heroine preoccupied in adorning herself for her beloved. It also related to love, and hence the erotic, implicating the metaphor of divine love through human act. Anjolie Ela Menon, Arpana Caur, Jayashree Burman, Paresh Maity, Ramananda Bandhopadhyaya and Suhas Roy invest their works with a distinct contemporary visual language to manifest their expression of the Sringara rasa.
Anjolie's works have the dominance of images of transience, nostalgia, languid nudes, metaphorical portraits and metonymic identities. Though lost in her nostalgia, the sensuality of her semi-draped female forms is open to the avid gaze.
"Kajal", water colour on board, Paresh Maity
Arpana Caur has employed woman in the category of nayika as classified by Bharata, as well as demonstrating an artistic and literary convention from Indian miniatures. Caur metaphorically releases woman from the clutches of her environs and is set free against a backdrop of congested concrete jungle. Ramananda postulates his Bengali tradition particularly the strength of his lyrical line.
Hasya rasa or the comic is inscribed in the works of Neeraj Goswamy, Amit Ambalal and Paritosh Sen. In Sen's works, the parody on social situations evokes subtle humour while Ambalal, through the metaphor of playful and gesticulating monkeys alludes to the speed of the jet age with the motif of a ghostly defined commercial jetliner.
Karuna Rasa or compassion marks the painted expressions of Anju Dodia and Arpita Singh. Dodia has a penchant for self-representation, and through the inscription of her persona projects her emotions. Singh manifests myriad hues creating a symbiosis between animate and inanimate objects. The nurturing emotion in Singh is recreated as a metonymy to goddess Lakshmi and Saraswati replete with lotus and swan.
Raudra Rasa or anger invests the works of Jatin Das, Jitish Kallat and Subodh Gupta as they traverse through life experiences with varying personification of anxieties, tensions and alienation. Vira Rasa or bravery is marked in Muralidharan and Nandagopal. While Muralidharan employs an iconic image of Devi as a metaphor in his canvas, Nandagopal, in his two-dimensional metal sculpture, remains true to his primary inspiration derived from Hero Stones ubiquitous in South India to mark the memory of the dead heroes.
"Shringara", oil and masonite with 22 carat gold, Anjolie Ela Menon
Bhayanaka rasa or fear manifests itself in the paintings of Atul Dodia and Ebenezer Sunder Singh. While Dodia supplies tragic humour in his androgynous form attempting to cling on to fragility of life through his index finger (anchored to a precipice while floating in an ambiguous space), Ebenezer approximates meditative intellectualisation through sophisticated play with the contemporary vocabulary of mass culture.
Bibhatsa rasa or disgust is implicated in Jogen Chowdhury, Sunil Das and Vaikuntam. Chowdhury's nayika is a contemporary bimbette as she reclines unabashedly on her gaudy couch implicated through the pasted printed-paper craftily juxtaposed with her form. Vaikuntam, on the other hand, inscribes his regional belle with modulated strident colours derived from popular urban culture articulated with cubist form.
"Untitled", gouache on paper, Amit Ambalal
Adbhuta rasa was again popular in Indian pictorial tradition especially in the representation of gopis at the sight of Krishna or the sound of his enchanting music. In the contemporary expressions of Arup Das, Harshavardhana, K.S. Radhakrishnan, J. Swaminathan and Vasundara Tiwari, it is both figurative and abstract. In the work of the late Swaminathan, the cultural symbols are converted to serve the elusive numen with a formal language.
Shanta rasa is appropriately realised in the painted and sculpted expressions of Baiju Parthan, Himmat Shah, Laxma Goud, S.H. Raza, Shibu Natesan and Sidharth. Goud's representation of the tribal Banjara woman is replete in its linear dimension, complemented by placid colours as she sits contented in a space that has no definition emphasising a spirited aura. Raza's works with its quiescent mood is pervasive, as his ubiquitous bindu dominates to infuse the ambience of his painting with meditative and serene emotions. It remains a hallmark of his oeuvre. Himmat Shah, in his sculptured expression, manifests beauty exploring the medium to realise the serenity that envelops it. And Sidharth's expressions are reminiscent of Buddhist imagery with their meditative countenance, particularly the eyes. What is particularly striking about his work is his technique of mixing vegetable and mineral pigments to transcribe his innermost emotions and experiences on a silk cloth and then pasting it on canvas. The iconography that inscribes the works of these artists is largely figurative with the exception of few, where it is non-figurative or abstract. The impressive collection besides being a conglomerate of forms and images is equally replete with descriptive, numinous and sensuous colours in their myriad play.
"Nayika", oil on canvas, Arpana Caur
Looking back to the late 1960s, the rhetoric of Indianness was the defining dimension in the international cultural milieu with the overtly symbolic art of neo-tantricism; now at the turn of the century reinventing an ancient text of the Natyashastra by Bharata to suit contemporary situation holds valence. If it has a role and a meaning, then it implies largely to the art market and the saleability of the heterogeneous culture in a globalised economy. This process underscores the fundamental principle that aesthetic production has become integrated into commodity production. In the post-modern scenario, the willingness to borrow indiscriminately from the past has become the norm in conjunction with different approaches and methods of art making to reflect contemporary life.
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