Friday, June 22, 2012

My little friend Moon


My little friend Moon 

Sitting under the dark gray sky I wondered why everyone thought the night sky was black… I could see the black silhouettes of the houses and trees but the sky looked a nice dark bluish gray in color. It was there that I had first seen my friend, the moon. He lives up above in that night sky and I often spoke to him from my window. Every night he was there, ever since I remember and when he went away on a holiday once a month he left behind the stars to give me company, tinier but brighter, scattered all over… in fact I actually had trouble peeping out to get a good look at all of them together, they seemed to be dancing around all night, playing, twinkling and winking, trying very hard to entertain me. It’s fun to play with them but it’s always more fun to have the moon back so I could have a nice quiet conversation with him. 
One night while we were talking, I asked him if I could go closer and meet him, “We’ve been friends since so long but we haven’t ever shook hands” I said in dismay and hope. The moon smiled and said, “Yes why not, but first you must sleep since you have had a long day at school, I’m right here and if you sleep, we can spend time together”. I very excitedly pulled my cover and closed my eyes with a smile. I realized slowly that the little moon has become very large and was looking at me from the window, “Oh! I thought you were as small as me but you are so big!!” Hahaha he laughed and said “I look small because I live so far away in the sky”. Amazed with the actual size of my friend I asked him anxiously, “Can you take me with you to visit your home?” With a warm smile the moon gave me his hand and stepping out of my bed I flew with him to see his home. 
We flew and we flew, with the wind blowing my hair and my arms spread wide, I felt as light as a bird, I flew with my friend inhaling the night air! Up and down, left and right, I passed all the stars that twinkled while saying hello to me… It was like being welcomed by everyone around with a bright smile in the dark sky… “Here we are” moon said, after a while… I looked around surprised!!! There were only stars of different sizes, some clouds floating around but no walls… no doors... no windows!!! “Where is your house?” I asked perplexed. “I live right here in the open sky” he said, “here we don’t have walls and since there are no walls we don’t need windows or doors either. Like every night you have to open the window to see me, I just have to look your side to see you… that way I can always be there for all my friends on Earth”. And then for the first time I looked down. There were so many houses, with roofs of different shapes and sizes and heights, little lights shining out of their windows… I wondered how come I didn’t notice so many houses from my home??? Looking at the numerous windows I smiled and thought it was not just me who looked out and made friends with the moon but everyone on the earth was there looking and talking to him at the same time and my dear friend made all of us feel so special giving us all his attention… I hugged him hard and he giggled and tried to wriggle out. “Why are you giggling?” I asked him and rolling off with the giggle he replied, “I’m not used to being hugged so it tickles when you do it” “hehehehe”, I giggled too and tried hugging him again…and we flew behind each other around the stars all night, playing hide and seek amongst the clouds… they helped me hide and always made sure that some part of the moon was visible so I could catch him quickly… zigzag I went, up and down, from around the clouds to the dancing stars and we all played and laughed and danced all night… Soon I was tired and sat on my friends back while he took me around to different levels of his home, showing me all the angles from which he saw us… 
The sky’s color was getting lighter and we started crossing little flocks of birds… they seemed a little surprised to see me in the beginning but soon smiled and said their good mornings… we realized the Sun was waking up… and I remembered that I have to go to school as well!!! Moon held my hand and we both came down to the earth… smiling he gave me a huge hug because of which I almost got lost in him… I then jumped in through my window, thanking him and promising to meet again at night, we said our good byes. I looked up, the stars had already gone and the clouds too were moving in another direction… I wondered which part of the earth were they going towards, which houses would they converse with while I’m at school. I looked back at the moon outside the window and though the sun had woken up, I could see the moon waving at me with a wink… I knew I had visited my best friend’s home last night… I winked back and went off to get ready for school…

Story and Illustration by Mudita Bhandari 
Published in Chakmak, children's magazine in their 300th special issue.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Europe effect ....

The only thing that I was excited about in Europe was Rome, Vatican and the structures of historical importance more than the modern and the post modern art. But I guess I was in for a surprise. Before going I had never really thought of these structures from the religious point of view but when I saw the other tourists, their expressions, the faith, the approach, that’s when the religious importance of these places dawned on me. If one considers the historical circumstances, the rise of Christianity and the objective, then it probably makes sense, else art in Europe was only about scale, Christianity and realism. In retrospect I feel architecturally they were more successful, the sense of space they created with the grandness of the majestic structures are palpitating, but the expressions and the realism of the sculptures get a little monotonous.
Rome with all its stories had always fascinated me and it lived up to its image… it has an aura with the ruins of structures lying here and there. It makes you imagine the life then and connect with the past but Vatican was most disappointing… I had imagined the Sistine chapel to be completely mesmerizing as you see in the books (probably because the picture is only of the ceiling and doesn’t give you the overall idea of space) but when I entered, there were large frescos all over the room not leaving an inch of space to let any of it sink in. Drifting with the wave of tourists from different parts of the world we entered St Peters Basilica. I had still not got over my reaction to The Sistine chapel…and I stood there with my eyes wide and mouth open… WOW!! it was grand, beautiful and rich…there were large sculptures everywhere, frescos, paintings, stucco work, gold, silver, guess everything packed under one roof, I felt confused but couldn’t pin point the reason then I thought of the purpose behind the church and thought of its religious significance… unconsciously I wondered if I was in a palace or a church…with such grandness and rich beauty who would think of god? Wasn’t god preaching minimalism, letting go and feeling light? There was so much for your mind to absorb there that one never thinks of god, of spirituality or of letting go…The only thing that made me feel light were the high ceilings with an opening from where the sunlight was streaming in and beautiful frescos surrounding that opening. The light was giving them a very soft, dreamy look, almost making you feel like its there that the gods reside…and then again I looked down around me and the huge sculptures and painting were staring at the ‘little’ me, overpowering, I had to look away. There were these little areas of respite from that feeling of being surrounded, the extensive use of gold mosaic tiles in specific areas of the church (especially in the historic church in Venice and in some places in Florence) though it was of course used to show the wealth, glitter and the goodness around God, it also created a very divine, meaningful and conceptual look. Unfortunately the other sculptures around it completely overpowered that little glimmer of hope and happiness. I also have to mention here that in some countries in Europe there were these small square stones fixed in the ground in a pattern around the old city almost uniting and enhancing the main historic buildings of importance, burnished with time and rounded around the corners by people walking over them for hundreds of centuries, it was overwhelming to walk on the same ground, touching the same stones, walking the same path that the great rulers and intellectuals of that time must have done…so many centuries ago…
Well in most historical churches of Rome, Vatican and Venice I felt the discomfort and the weight of standing in front of GOD esp. in the Vatican. Everywhere you are surrounded by these huge sculptures with expressions that only remind you of the misery they went through instead of getting inspired to live from the preaching of Christ. I had never felt like this in any church before… the core of Christianity was not this… Its like you are being judged…and have to obey to everything because the self sacrificing Christ and his followers suffered for you… here forgiveness and accepting pain was glorified but the understanding of a deeper reason to suffer and forgive gets lost… you only try and being a human, try very hard to adhere to that what is glorified…rather than understand the reason behind the glorification. It felt like God was judging me, something I never felt in my connections with God ever. It was always like he was there beside me to help me walk no matter what… connecting, conversing, inspiring and sharing my life. Never judging overpowering or dominating… somehow God and his abode were made so overpowering that your connection with him on a spiritual level never grows.
Some modern churches were way better… more simplified, with more empty spaces inspiring you to sit and connect to the invisible power… not underline Power. I was told that was because of the difference between the Roman Catholics and Protestants and their sub divisions…naturally if the belief shifts the approach would change as well…
Amongst all these confusions I spotted ‘Pieta’ in St. Peters basilica and it was beautiful, totally breathtaking…sitting quietly in one corner it made you forget about everything thing else that’s around, all the large sculptures, frescos and wealth, you connect with it in an instant not religiously but as a work of art. To get that kind of expression the artist really has to be connected and be involved in his work…I was amazed…when you compare it with the other sculptures there, the difference in the depth of the expression was clearly visible… a commissioned work for the church, a moment picked up from the history but u can see the dialogue between the artist and his work… a friend rightly said “Great artists have always woven subtext into their art that may be inaccessible even to their own patrons” and that’s what made Michelangelo great…
Its amazing to see the difference of approach in the east and the west. The circumstances were different and the kind of variety that touched the Indian subcontinent due to so many different rulers and their faiths and the assimilation of their cultures along with the one that existed became the reason for the grounded richness. Another difference was that the east was connected very strongly with nature and the west looked at the ideal body for a long long time… therefore the depth of abstract was absent in the west and it surfaced very interestingly in their modern period after the invention of the camera. I ended up more fascinated by the art of their modern times…it was nothing like what I saw in the books… the play of volume, size, medium and texture was used again in a different time but the concepts and the use of allegory and metaphor made all the difference… naturally there were no limitations of religious stories… they explored the possibilities of the senses to its utmost limit…
In the olden times, for the east the disciple’s connection with the supreme power was more important and nature played a very important role in its depiction of the supreme power. That’s what made places like Ajanta, Khajuraho, Konark, etc or even earlier on, Bagh caves very spiritual and sublime. One is completely lost in the magical aura of Ajanta. It was a place meant for religion and the practice of it with no outwardly appearance of any grand God, whether it is Konark temple or Kailashnath in Ellora, scale was important but the lyricism of the beautiful world created by the gods and space to connect to that world is given equal importance…Very down to earth and with its serene beauty it takes you somewhere deep inside the figures without you noticing the anatomy but experiencing the feeling of that expression.
The irony is that in today’s times in the west the churches even though built very early in time are considered the base of religious power, and being used for practicing the faith despite its overpowering feel. Whereas in the Indian subcontinent the structures and temples which exude spiritual energies are alive only in its historical context, while the structures that are used as Gods abode have turned into commercial places of religious significance where you’d be lucky if you even get a glimpse of the idol let alone your time to connect with him or feel the space…

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Still looking for the right heading...:)

Im no authority on religion neither do I have much knowledge about it so would invite views to get other dimensions of the same :) Im writing about Jainism in particular because I was born into it and have heard my elders talk of its preachings I could relate to but now my growing dissatisfaction for the way its being practiced led to a discussion with one of my relatives. It helped me connect my spirituality with the base of all religions and clear my confusions to a certain level. In April sometime there was a report on how two elephants were used to pull a rath in Indore in peak afternoon, the rath was double storied with close to 20 people sitting in it including the maharajsab ( Jain saints)…I was aghast to see the picture of the elephants whose legs were tied up with short thick iron chains, so that they can be controlled as there was a huge crowd following the rath…When I started discussing this, the immediate reaction of some people was that they are Digambars and not Shwetambar jain… it disgusted me even more… this is just one example. Time and again I’ve come across incidents where I feel ashamed of how the meanings are distorted and every religion now is adulterated in the way its being practiced, for obvious reasons I like to call my self spiritual and not religious…
So it was on this basis that our discussion started… Mr. Banthia immediately marked me saying you cant criticize a religion as the basic of each religion is simplicity and humanity therefore not believing in it would be wrong. It’s the people who complicate religion, not the religion itself…it was interesting as he asked me if I knew the original meaning of Dharm… which I didn’t…he said it's simply rules to live in a society… he clarified… rules not only to live your own life but to live along with other people… he said the way religion is being practiced now is very complicated. I immediately said yes I cant relate to many things and they confuse me… Mr. Banthia too agreed and said it’s the perception of the people which makes it bad, by just following it blindly without understanding the essence of it.
Luckily my elders were open enough to let me find my own way… Im very spiritual and believe very strongly in energies, in nature being the mother of all creations…and I feel whether it is Mahavir, Buddha, Christ, Shiva or any other God, they all left everything, went and lived their own journey into enlightenment through their own experiences,though their circumstances were different, their times in history were different and their experiences were different but what was similar was that they attained enlightenment by letting go of things... by simplifying life and their thoughts… that is what took them to a higher level where they could absorb the positive energies and float in the atmosphere feeling totally light. Probably they then preached to show the way to everyone but everyone has to go through their own journeys with their own experiences and realizations to find their own enlightenment. For this you have to get to know yourself inside out… probably that’s how I relate to religion… I cant feel the energies in the universe by just praying … I have to connect to it to absorb and create more positive energy to sustain myself, to let go of things and to feel light…
To this his wife asked me how would you get to know yourself inside out and here comes my favorite part…I guess Im lucky that its part of my profession too. In art we express ourselves but how would we express if we don’t know what exactly are we feeling and why?? Therefore one keeps questioning everything one does and sees and feels…analyze them and try to figure out where its comes from… most artists you speak to, the ‘I’ would come in the conversation again and again…not because they are ‘I’ centric or because they don’t look beyond the ‘I’ but because they keep constantly questioning the ‘I’… It’s a journey to look and search for your self, to relate it to others around you and understand the human nature better… its amazing that when you analyze things you might just feel, what you thought of yourself was not what you really are…one reacts to things in a completely uncharacteristic way. Its a long life and one tends to develop knots while living it…while questioning the negative energies one also identifies the knots buried quietly in the past…once you know the knots and accept them, you move on…its not a days process…its in phases, sometimes you are in a certain phase and another time in a totally opposite one, growing and experiencing with time…it just keeps simplifying…you feel more connected to the power in the universe and more positive about things around and most importantly at peace with yourself.
To this Mr. Banthia said there is another way of putting up the same thoughts which incidentally helped me connect to the so called religious thoughts as well. He said when you say you let go, you are using the path of Ahinsa…you forgive, understand that the other person might have a reason to do what he did and also that you had a reason to do what you did, and probably work on those reasons to solve the problem and move on, not let it hold against anyone…that is Ahinsa. Ultimately we both agreed that its important to understand what religion, is to you and why do you need it. Everything exists for a reason, once the purpose is known it becomes easier to identify the road… there is no formula …you have to experience it to ultimately simplify life and let go of it all…strange that a thought like religion, faith or belief in its original form is so beautiful but in today’s world and circumstances man has made it to sound like an abuse.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Abstract thoughts

I have been having very long conversations with myself almost everyday and everyday I think of sitting and writing it down but when I sit, there are so many distractions. However much I try I just can’t remember what I was thinking of writing the whole day… I guess that’s exactly what happens to us in our everyday life, and this time even my work was about similar things… somehow there is a dialogue with oneself almost every minute of the day… Anything that happens or you see is absorbed in that dialogue… you have no apprehensions about that dialogue as no one would hold your words in quotes so you can freely reason out what you were thinking, make your own discoveries and maybe with time and circumstances changing, those discoveries might lead to some other discoveries which were totally opposite to the previous ones… I just love that process… gives me high… that every time you think ‘wow this is it!’ and by the time you reach that ‘this is it’ and thriving on it, you realize there’s more to it… and the process continues…
When you deconstruct the complexities of things, I wonder if we can ever stick to one understanding of a situation… its so multidimensional that everything can be correct in its own way… and everything be wrong in that same way as well… the coin has two sides to it and I guess one can pick up just any side and argue… Only thing is that one needs to figure out how many plus and minus are there for one of the sides to win… so many grey shades that honestly there’s no black and white… But that’s the fun of it as you keep looking for your gray within that basic black and white.
everyone’s caught up in their day to day life…its stressing but in those quite moments when you are with yourself isn’t it fun figuring things out, matching them with your priorities and in the process discovering yourself and others…I guess we all think like this, brood over things, sometimes look for the answers and sometimes the questions for those answers…some people have the luxury of thinking about it and discovering themselves and some don’t…luckily I have that luxury, I can thrive on the process as its part of my work but I see a thousand others whose work has nothing to do with it… they long to have a dialogue but have more practical stuff to attend to first… jobs to finish and between the list of things the thoughts are lost… thoughts that would make them wonder about the sounds and smells and believe in the magic of life…everyone has to work and be a part of the hustle bustle to create and to make things move… guess everything is fine as long as it doesn’t hit the extreme… balance is the key. The rest is all interlinked. One can’t extract anything from anything…

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Living Votive Objects

After a long time I didn’t feel that I was entering a “gallery” with “works” on display… it felt like I was entering a different space…disconnected from the hustle bustle of the real world outside that room. It was a world of the natural, quite and undisturbed surroundings where the animals moved and flowed from one place to another oblivious to any human presence…

Shampa Shah a renowned ceramic artist exhibited her works in Bharat Bhawan recently. Apart from freelancing as a studio potter she has also been working in The Indira Gandhi Manav Sangrahalaya, Bhopal as a museum associate. Her interaction with the craftsmen, their lifestyles, beliefs and their rituals have led her to have a deep understanding and knowledge of the tribal and folk art of India. This clearly reflects in her work.
As you enter the gallery a little note beautifully expresses the mood of her work….She talks of how the trees and plants are not stagnant at one place they move and fly… they play with the flowing wind and seeds fly along with it to different places, how even if the leaves or flowers fall the new little delicate sprouts take their place in time….the spirit of these different things combined together gives life even to the lifeless objects…. In the outskirts of the villages you find a tree or a chabutra which is considered the devsthan and becomes a host to a group of horses, bulls or elephants kept as votive objects to please or thank the devtas. Shampa sees life within this cluster of haphazardly kept votive offerings, the fear, expectation or gratitude of the villager that these offerings represent, the tree or chabutra along with the terracotta offerings transforms themselves into a space which vibrates with life of their belief and the simplicity of it.

One sees a clear reflection of this in her forms. They are not just horses or forms inspired by votive objects …but in itself they complete the whole characteristics of everything that is around those votive objects. The sensitively handled delicate buds and plants curve and emerge through the body of the horse as if the foliage is growing from within. Each piece reflects a different body language a different expression and different movements of the foliage adding to the expression of the horse. As if the surroundings and the purpose of the place have brought life to the votive object.
After their purpose is complete these votive pieces are left to take care of themselves under the changing weather, their surface peeling, their color fading and moss giving it an even more dynamic look. The textures and the treatment of clay and her use of glazes and slips did full justice to the forms. The large drawings behind some of these forms gave them a physical space, a relation with the place they were displayed in. They didn’t look like forms picked up and put into a gallery which was foreign to them seeking attention of the viewer but were very much at home in their own space and letting the viewer quietly enter and share their world.

Photos Courtesy: Shanpa Shah
Article: Mudita Bhandari
Published: Indian Ceramic Quarterly, (issue 2/2009) Delhi Blue Pottery Trust

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Everyday there are a lot of thoughts that cross our minds… we wonder , we question, we observe, we judge, we debate and all this gets us to a concept, a journey of spontaneous thoughts leading to a firm and concrete concept. One day in the studio Pankaj uncle and I were discussing this along with some more issues like how art is moving away from the common man. While working in the studio he often picked up little things that I had done offhandedly, he had seen some such things at Rajesh uncle’s studio as well… we had a discussion about how interesting this trail of thoughts could get…. How the little spontaneous thoughts shift into a more reasoned and logical forms and how sometimes we miss out on a very casual but important expression.
I guess art is an expression which is sometimes spontaneous and sometimes very logical… one needs to know why we do what we do. It actually starts from being a spontaneous feeling of an artist which is analyzed, cross questioned and then becomes a very logical expression.
Today in art we get to see many conceptually strong works but somehow miss the flow of thoughts, discussions, confusions and the contradiction of ideas that get the artist to that final concept. Sometimes these final concepts become so abstract that it’s difficult for a common man to understand where it came from.
(Works by Rajesh Sharma and Me)
When Pankaj uncle told me the concept of the exhibition he was curating I got really excited. It was a small effort to bring that process in focus which gives birth to the final concept….the process which is more important and genuine and somehow more approachable to the common man…. He named the exhibition ‘Maarm’ and since these were not our mainstream works we decided whatever money is generated through this show will go to Neev foundation which works to educate the street children in Indore.

(The children from neev foundation visiting our exhibition with pankhuri escorting them)
The works exhibited in ‘Maarm’ were sketches of the artist, thoughts that otherwise go unnoticed in some corner of the studio….. sketches which come from deep within but don’t reach the gallery….here was art not to give a profound intellectual expression but simple aesthetics and rasa which would stimulate the senses……

Pictures: Pranshu and the first one by me

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Shilpayan was a beautiful attempt in getting the contemporary designs, techniques and the traditional potters together. The idea was to have five contemporary studio potters as experts, five traditional potters and 100 potters from different districts of M.P. It was a ten day workshop organized by Madhya Pradesh Vigyan Evam Prodyogiki Parishad and Indira GandhiManav Sangrahalaya, Bhopal. The five studio potters called in as experts were Shantanu Jena, Arun Kumar Sharma, Devilal Patidar, Jyotsana Bhatt and me. It was an awesome experience to be working with them all….Shantanu da with his infectious energy and a fantastic sense of humour kept us all laughing, he amazed me with his knowledge of the medium and the simplicity of his personality…. And hats off to Shampa di, she seemed like one super woman… managing everything as a host…. between work, paper work , the potters and our requirements and then her little ‘superman’ Tuka…who would worry everyone by being in the sun all the time :)

I was thrilled when Shampa di (Shampa Shah) told me that Rashtriya Indira Gandhi Manav Sangrahalaya was doing a workshop with hundred traditional potters and five contemporary studio potters as experts and that I’m invited as one of the experts. At the same time I was a little skeptical about the outcome of this workshop. But nevertheless the thought of working with craftsmen has always fascinated me and the fact that Shampa di was involved made me think this would be different….I have always wondered how they manage to create forms and objects which are so original and characteristic of their surroundings, it reflects their belief, their gods and goddess and their social and economical structure, each district would have a style of their own which reflects their surroundings and way of living.…it seems effortlessly done without any intellectual talk just their tradition and folklore coming to them through generations and assimilated within them.

The times are changing and so are the needs of the individuals along with their social structure. The demand of what the potters make has gone down as other materials have replaced the market. Therefore the need arises to create objects which are used more often and regularly in the contemporary lifestyle so that the market for these products increase. Our aim in this workshop was to interact with them, see the methods they are using, understand the work they have been doing and then give them ideas to develop new products keeping the characteristics of their work and designs intact. Also to sort any problems regarding the techniques they are using and introduce some new ones.

Shampa di’s understanding of the traditional crafts and the craftsmen is so deep that it works as a bridge between them and us…..I refer to this subject as “them and us” as this was something I have always felt while working with any traditional crafts person.…. Many times in such workshops the potters end up feeling that what they have been doing so far is not good enough or on the other extreme might block all ideas thinking ‘what will these ‘shahari’ people know about how we work and what we do’ which I feel is very natural. There was an interesting situation in case of one group that had come from Morena. I felt I was being checked out thoroughly before they started listening to what I had to say….It was a lovely feeling though, had they just heard me out without any cross questioning I would have felt they are hardly listening but since they put all sorts of tricky technical questions and even challenged me on certain topics, I knew I was being tested. By the time they were satisfied we had developed a lovely relationship of respect and understanding. They even sang songs in their native language curiously those songs were not folk songs but songs based on folk tunes and wording spoke of the contemporary changes in their village. There was one which described the famine they had and one which was a sarcastic take on their younger generation women wearing high heals….;) It was lovely to be a part of them.

After the first two days they left behind their awkwardness and we had a good and open interaction. We did one low temperature glaze firing, a raku firing and a smoke firing, made three different kinds of kilns and the techniques of slip trailing, mocha and resist in smoke firing were also introduced … they were all very keen to learn the new techniques and also teach us some of their own, we also ended up comparing notes and figuring out the possibilities of each others materials. By then they became very open about their interests and problems and accepted us as one of their own which was a huge honour.

I left Bhopal with a positive feeling but the only thing I was wondering was that while speaking to them I really felt they lacked confidence in going beyond their village and locality…. They feel almost lost when you ask them to go in search of a wider market. Probably experiences like taking their work to a craft mela or for them to interact directly with a lager and more varied customer would help in developing their confidence. But in just ten days we were successful in raising their curiosity about the possibilities of the medium. It did bring a new zeal in the potters and they were keen to go home and try these techniques on their own which in itself was a huge accomplishment.