Saturday, October 29, 2005

Divine Carriers.

"Spirituality" may seem to some to be a nebulous term, providing a cover for a lack of serious engagement with existence. Indeed, expressions of spirituality in Indian art are varied and a few criteria may be helpful in distinguishing the features of its terrain. Based on the location of the artist relative to the spiritual life, we may have sacred art, mystic art, metaphysical art or yogic art. The sacred is characterized by the sense of worship. A gulf separates the human from the divine, and the sacred calls attention to the magnitude of this distance in existential terms. The mystic has an emotional relationship full of the sense of reciprocity. A closer approach than that of the sacred, human and divine mingle here in a transhuman adoration. In the metaphysical, an attempt is made to identify the elements of heightened experience and to question and articulate the relationships between these elements. In yogic art, the processes of spiritual experience become manifest, carrying the power to duplicate themselves in the viewer. In this respect, it is the last that is the most potent, and is the visual equivalent of the mantra. All these four features are to be found, in varying degrees in this exhibition.
Stylistically, I identify four major tendencies in the selections in this exhibition, and group them broadly according to these tendencies: Iconic, Romantic, Visionary, Abstract. There is often some overlap between these categories, but I stand on my understanding of primary tendency to dictate the grouping.
Romantic : These artists paint in idioms closest to the earlier Bengal School and are perhaps the closest in lineage as well. One is an eminent disciple of Nandalal Bose, a major master; another is the daughter of Sudhir Khastagir, another great master, and the third is a product of the Government Art College of Calcutta, where the influence of the Bengal School still runs deep. Their themes range from romantic treatments of Puranic subjects (gods and goddesses) through personal mythologies to "ideational portraiture" of spiritual personages. Mystical representation of nature and of classical literary episodes are also part of this tendency. Ramananda Bandyopadhyay Shyamali Khastagir Sandip Suman Bhattacharya
Iconic : The movement towards geometric abstraction in Western modernism has found a correspondence in the re-exploration of the Tantric meditational diagram, the yantra in Indian art. This has led to a new genre of contemporary representation, evidenced in the Neo-Tantra exhibition that traveled in Europe and the U.S. in 1985-6. Traditionally, the use of the word 'icon' has related to images of worship. In modern technological terminology, it has come to stand for diagrammatic signs that carry intuitive functional ideas. By iconism in art, I mean the minimized expression of a patterned interaction of signs with one another and with the viewer. Iconism thus covers formal abstraction and ranges from Neo-Tantra to structured symbols aiming at effecting transformational processes through perceptually initiated "magical engineering". To this end, the symbolism of Tantra is a powerful iconic device, incorporated to a different degree by all these artists. The visual metaphors of Tantra include the trikona, ascending and descending triangles, representing various levels of earthly aspiration and transcendental response respectively; the linga, phallic icon embodying the inexhaustible, infinite potentiality of spirit, the yoni or vagina, standing for the mystery of the birth in time of the timeless; the bindu or point representing the seed of the eternal and the infinite manifest through the impregnation of time and space, becoming immanent in every instant and every particle; and the kundalini or coiled serpent, consciousness latent at the base of the manifest, that 'uncoils' itself as evolution in time. Biswarup Dutta Amrita Banerji
Visionary : I have reserved the use of this term for those representations which, while maintaining a substantial relationship with the waking world of forms, yet arise from an immersion in "alternate reality" or trance-like experience. The nature of this experience is intended to draw us into contact with deeper psychological principles, revealing great intuitive and harmonizing ideas and vibrating at a level where opposites are resolved and united. Two of the artists in this category are inmates of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Dhanavanti Priti Ghosh Anjan Chakravarty
Abstract : If the iconic (which deals with crystallization and the essence of form) may be called the "pole of magic", where a higher law enters matter; at its opposite end is the transcendental liberation from form, the "pole of spiritual ascension". Aiming at depicting pure movements of consciousness through flowing forms and colors, the capturing of textures that repeat in microcosm and macrocosm, or in analysing the event-field prior to manifestation, these artists affirm a subjectivism that abandons all pretence to naturalistic imitation. The viewer is drawn into spirit-space, where the secret forces of the universe align themselves in pre-natal patterns. In this category also, are two artists from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Champaklal Kiran Mehra Sridhar Iyer
Contemporary spiritual art in India is a diverse and exciting field, and Divine Carriers modestly attempts to introduce international viewers to it. All the work in this exhibition was created after 1965; all are informed with a concern for communicating visionary messages in the context of a national and global community of seekers for deeper living solutions in the contemporary world. Debashish Banerji, Curator, Divine Carriers.

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