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WALKING TOWARDS GATE NO. 85 & 86



‘India Greets’ is designed as a tableau of India as one of the first installations which visitors encounter as a welcoming gesture to Jaya He Museum is a densely populated vista of diverse traditional doorways, facades, faces and fascias.


Sourced from across the country, they are a language of motifs, designs, and traditional crafts skills. They together offer a testament to cultural diversity of India  as well as the often intangible commonalities that transcend ethnicity, religious affiliations, and geography.  These are replete with symbols of welcome and protection – lotuses, sacred geometries, angels, ancestral figures, and celestial guardian figures.

THEATRICAL SCREENING

ANIL NAIK AND MORESHWAR PATIL

In rendering the artwork thus, Patil and Naik draw on the late 19th and early 20th century painted sceneries which were hung as backdrops in theatres and photography studios. Painted by both well-known and anonymous painters, these curtains transformed prosceniums into vividly coloured forests and riversides, village streets and bustling town squares, as well as gardens, royal courts and sumptuous palaces.   Adopted by theatre troupes in a number of Indian cities, especially in Maharashtra, West Bengal and Karnataka, the curtains were painted on cotton, and described the locale of scenes summoned by the narrative, demarcated the background from the foreground and accommodated the actors within realistically rendered sceneries. The art of the painted curtains evolved into elaborate spectacles in the Parsi and Marathi theatre traditions.   “The theatre curtains used in drama and early films in the era before hoarding technologies existed were painted by hand. In many instances, the artists were not formally trained but had learnt through a process of apprenticeship from the previous generation of theatre curtain painters,” says Anil Naik.   “We had to suspend our critical analysis and embrace their language, taking care to ensure we retained the style of every individual atelier. Thus when reproducing theatre curtains that exhibited a magical realism, we would use perspective to create the illusion of a three-dimensional space. In others, where a table is shown with four legs when in reality only two would have been visible, we retain the unrealistic perspective.”   Band-like sections of the enormous installation can be viewed from each successive storey of the airport and in some instances; the painted curtains can be viewed as an entire elevation. Overseeing twenty artists, Naik and Patil drew upon their experience as teachers at the JJ School of Art.   Making the painted backdrop to appear creased, as though actually suspended from battens as in the proscenium theatre, proved troublesome. “After five months of explorations, we decided to paste the canvas flat on the wall and to distort the painted sceneries to simulate the folds of the curtains,” says Naik.   The eight-foot high narrative painting of the fabled Raja Harishchandra, composed using images from the first silent film made in India, directed and produced by Dadasaheb Phalke in 1913, is interwoven with images of contemporary Hindi Cinema. The idea here, according to Anil Naik, who painted this section, “is to combine historical drama and contemporary cinema, to explore their relationship with one another artistically.”   The artists also had to adapt to site realities, shaping the curtains to make way for functional doors, elevators and artefacts. Tangible material history, thus became another, three-dimensional layer in the montage.

LOTUS POND

PRATIK PRABHAKAR AND SHILPA SANGHA

In 1934, an earthquake that exposed the interior painted walls of houses in the Madhubani district, Bihar, caught the attention of William G Archer, the British officer who photographed the painted walls. When the photographs were published in 1949, they brought the style he dubbed as 'Madhubani painting' to public attention for the very first time.   A second natural disaster, a severe draught in 1968, prompted the All India Handicrafts Board to support a few upper caste women in the villages in the vicinity of Madhubani town, to transfer their wall paintings to paper as an income generation project. Instead of drawing with rice paste on the floor using their hands, they were now introduced to a new tool - spliced bamboo, one end of which was wrapped in cotton.   Here at T2, no natural disaster but a major curatorial intervention, brings Madhubani or Mithila painting, once more, into the public domain through Pratik Prabhakar's 'Lotus Pond'.   Mithila painting was predominantly a feminine expression, restricted to the ritual ornamentation of the walls and floors of the hut, as well as ceremonial objects with auspicious symbols. Rooted in the rhythms of agrarian life, Mithila painting celebrates the seasons of harvest and planting, religious festivals and rites of passage such as births and deaths.   Here, Prabhakar concentrates on the traditional vocabulary of the kohbar (the walls of the bridal chamber during wedding ceremonies); a multitude of female faces, representing the devi or goddess, frame the heart of the lotus. Six smaller medallions are lotus leaves or purain. A dense growth of stylized lotus stems, roots and buds are depicted around these seven medallions, birds rest on the blooms and aquatic creatures such as snakes, fish and tortoises swim in the waters of the lotus pond or kamaldah.   "They say humans are born of fish, so fish have been placed in the innermost circle. They are followed by the creatures of the waters and the earth, such as tortoises, crabs and snakes, swimming through the mauve, pink and blue ripples of the lotus pond. Next are ducks, creatures of the water and skies, and parrots, creatures of the sky," says Prabhakar.   Another key element of the kohbar, the bamboo grove or baans, is also incorporated in Prabhakar's work. A counterpoint to the feminine lotus, the bamboo is associated with male energies. Like the lotus plant, it germinates rapidly, symbolising sexual potency and family life. This imagery was transferred onto a three-dimensional surface, constructed of 42 boxes of various sizes and heights made from HDF fibre board and acrylic paint. Fitted together like an enormous jigsaw puzzle, the boxes present a unified image, symbolising the hidden order of nature, amid the irregularity and chaos of the manmade world.

WELLNESS FLOWER

RABINDRA BEHERA

Rabindra Behera executes ‘Wellness Flower’, in a traditional rendering of the lotus on dried palm leaves, a ‘pattachitra’. Pattachitra painting historically developed around religious centres in Odisha, like Konark and Puri, and recalls the ancient murals of the region. Finely detailed, these works were created on layers of primed cloth or 'patta', and were originally used as objects of worship on days when the temples were inaccessible because the idols were being bathed, or as migrant shrines carried by pilgrims. Behera belongs to a secondary tradition, in which the entire composition is rendered on dried palm leaves. Thick leaves, which are less likely to crumble while drying, are cut into flat rectangular slats or pattas of the desired size and dried. These pattas are then stitched together with thin thread, and knotted at intervals of a few inches such that they remain firmly bound but can be folded into a compact pile. The size of the completed pattachitra depends on how many pattas are joined together. This particular work is exceptionally large, spanning 9 ½ feet x 9 ½ feet.   Rising from the mire to unfurl as a beautiful blossom, the lotus is widely believed to symbolise purity and creation. Embodying cosmic harmony, it is a microcosm of the universe, its heart, the womb of the world. The thousand-petalled lotus, a metaphor for the gradual unfolding of the consciousness on its path towards enlightenment, is a particularly potent marker of the culmination of, or the initiation, into a journey of the body or mind.   It is from this rich tradition that Behera draws on, for his work. Inspired by the curatorial brief, he has created “a large thousand-petalled lotus, each petal of which, contains the image of an apsara, the celestial dancers and handmaidens to the gods.” Leaning in for a closer inspection, one notices that despite the similarity in their attire and coiffure, each figure is different. Some of the curvaceous nymphs play flutes, cymbals or drums; other are depicted as though dancing with abandon, and still others stand still, their palms clasped in greeting.   The heart of the lotus is inscribed with two overlapping triangles that intersect to form a hexagon. Derived from the cosmic diagrams or mandalas of Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist spiritual traditions, the form marks the abode of enlightenment, the pure lands one may arrive in, after surmounting the desire and attachment of the material world. In both Hindu and Buddhist tantric philosophy, the overlapping triangles represent the sexual and spiritual union of male and female energies, and the reconciliation of polarities to arrive at a state of oneness.   The forms, once drawn, are then etched into their leaf with a sharp stylus or iron needle. The delicacy of the palm leaf and the dense, miniature forms requires remarkable precision on the artist’s part. Black ink is rubbed over the drawing such that the grooves of the incised areas absorb the dye. The excess ink is wiped off the palm leaf surface, leaving the black tracery of the etched design on the cream green-brown surface of the palm leaf.   “With the 1000 petals of the lotus and the 1000 celestial dancers contained within it, we extend a manifold welcome to the jaatris (visitors). Swagatam, Swagatam, Swagatam,” says Behera.

THE POOL OF PLENTY

SHYAM SHARMA AND RAJEEV SETHI SCENOGRAPHERS PVT. LTD

The 'Pool of Plenty' is an example of Shyam Sharma's philosophy. "My first aim is to draw paintings in a style that is distinctly Indian without resorting to copy work. The second, is to try to create works that are unique both in composition and subject matter," says Sharma.   A national award winning miniature painter, Shyam Sharma is renowned as a master of the picchvai, the cloth paintings hung behind the image of Shrinathji, a manifestation of the Hindu deity Krishna. The themes of the picchvai follow the life of Krishna as celebrated in the pageantry of the temple festivals such as Holi, Govardha Puja, Annakut and Raas Leela. The pichhvai also echo the changing seasons and their dispositions. Thus, paintings of summer have pink lotuses while those of Sharad Purnima illustrate a night scene with a full moon. Typically, the picchvai were made on starched and handspun cloth. They are then painted in colours made from minerals and vegetables like indigo, orpiment, cochineal and lapis using brushed made of goat, squirrel and horse hair. The pichhvai may also employ flamboyant embroidery and gold thread work.   "Each picchvai painting is considered a seva or an offering to the deity. Artists who are devotees of Srinathji, such as myself, take turns to work in the temple maintaining the picchvai paintings in their collections," explains Sharma.   Commissioned to create a painting in the Nathdwara style and compose it as a set of modular cards, the pieces were to be designed such that any one or all of them could be rotated, placed in different configurations and still form a cohesive image. The lotus was to be the main element in the work to blend with an installation using carved wooden panels with the thousand petalled lotus in the adjoining space, that had Madhubani artists interpret it in their style. "This was an entirely new format for me ... I had never tried composing a painting as tiles before! ... I decided to use the lotus as a repeating motif symbolizing Krishna leela, the experience of the world in its true form as divine play," says the artist.