Friday, July 29, 2016

Padma Gauri

Lajja Gauri  and Padma Gauri by Joyotee Ray Chaudhury 

In the first age of the gods, existence was born from non-existence.
The quarters of the sky were born from Her who crouched with legs spread.
The earth was born from Her who crouched with legs spread,
And from the earth the quarters of the sky were born.
Rig Veda, 10.72.3-4

I chanced upon her accidentally during a Google search. She seemed to draw me in to her immediately. It was that Lotus head with that exposed vulva Posture that had me intrigued. I had to draw her, and draw I did. The first sketch, on the form that the first sculptures of her were found, in old civilizations, life giving, flowering, in a blossoming phase. However I was looking for a birthing goddess and I stumbled upon her as I wanted to articulate the current state of earth and humanity. My second sketch is what she seemed to just be right for. However due to the extraordinary combination of her posture with her lotus head I started reading more about the Lajja Gauri. The name itself had me intrigued and I did feel the name was a result of societies much after the concept of this diety.
Her visually explicit representation is aesthetic and pertaining to her cult birthing and not pornographic at all, contrary to the Victorian socially constituted societies.  Her first reference is the Rig Veda, while her worship can be traced back to the 1st century in the Indus Valley and is linked to Shaktism cults, she has the appellation of the Goddess Aditi. Her description in the Rig Veda describes her limitless and being uninhibited is her true form, free as the sky, open and vast. Gauri in southern India is linked to Sati and Parvati, hence she is very much linked to the Shaktism beliefs. Gauri is the manifestation of the supreme Mother, limitless like the sky in her description, and is invoked more for her role in fertility and progeny. She is the life giving or birthing force. She is referred to as the Creator Deity who has given birth to the trinity. Other similar references of Lajja Gauri are in Renuka Goddess of fertility, similar to Matangi and the grama devata Yallama.
Now to analyse her detailed postural references to variant beliefs and practices in the East. Her “Uttanapad” posture which is the legs wide apart, is to facilitate childbirth via full exposure. One leg raised slightly higher than the other. Her sensually comfortable posture also has lotus adoration through ornamentation. The lotus symbol follows as a vine through her body almost rising from her base chakra as a seed and through her ornaments onto the lotus she holds in both hands and then sees a complete manifestation a full blossomed many fold Lotus as her head symbol.
To now understand the emphasis on Lotus as the most important symbol that She carries. The Lotus has great significance in all ancient civilizations, from the Hindu traditions to the Egyptian beliefs. According to the Egyptian myth of world creation, the lotus came from an original silt and from its chalice the divine Creator. The lotus flower, opening up at sunrise and closing at sunset, symbolizes the Sun God and the light expansion outside the original silt. This interesting as the slit here can be referred to the Goddesses vulva travelling upwards to create the divine chalice in which, births and blossoms true spiritual knowledge. The Lotus is the symbol of true spiritual blossoming. In the Tantra beliefs, there is a subtle body within the human body, crossed by three channels known as the nadis at the base. The Lateral channels where opposed energies, solar and lunar, are winding around the third neuter channel and five basic points. The total seven points referred to as chakras translating to wheels in Sanskrit, coming with spikes form the lotus in stylized form. These centres are represented very precisely in the Hindu tradition as lotuses with the petal number.
In my bid to understand the Mother Divine in this form, the Tantra explanation of ascension, seems to best express her. The “kundalini” rises in the static form of the subtle energy, crosses successively the different chakras associated with the physical, psychical and spiritual needs to lead the being towards the true Knowledge and the full Realization symbolized by the thousand petal lotus. In the Taoist Tantra, the blooming is the result of an internal alchemy, marriage of the essence (hsin) with the breath (ki), of Fire (Li) and Water (Kan) that symbolizes the return to the centre, the unity of the essential state represented by the lotus.

To sum it up I understand the Lajja Gauri not just as a Goddess of fertility but a Goddess that represents Life. She is life giving by nature. With an open vulva the seed of thought germinates within her, and takes full form in her chalice. Life and thought both move upwards experiencing the body pains and pleasures to transcend above these for the ultimate birth goal, which is the spiritual manifestation of a being. This is best represented in the manifold Lotus head, where the body ceases to exist and only the pleasure of a fully realised existence persists in the Padma formation. I hence would like to name her in my drawings as the “Padma Gauri”. In my second drawing My Padma, is releasing the toxic state of being that our planet has evolved into. This drawing is a question to our existing humanity and societies, as to where we are headed, with our mindless growth and violence. Is there any realization happening or are we on the path of self annihilation……in that case her vulva will now consume existence. The lotus of learning will not shrivel but stand true for ages to come, advising, that we need to rise above the physical state of being of war and meaningless misery.  

References :

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Queen of Sheba The Singapore Sidewalk, an interview with Kavita Issar Batra

I recently had a chat with Kavita Issar Batra about Queen of Sheba: The  Singapore Sidewalk. Kavita is an Indo-British artist, for whom Singapore has been home for the past seven years. She studied art with Ruth Perez in London, James Holdsworth and David Kelly in Singapore. Her oeuvre spans oil, acrylic, mixed media paintings, installation and photography. She has collectors in Singapore, India, Dubai, Europe, Uk, US and Australia.  Below is the gist of our conversation.

Joyotee:        Congratulations Kavita. Within a span of 9 months you have rolled out your second solo and a huge body of works. Do tell us a little about the making of Queen Of Sheba?
Kavita:          The body of work represented in this exhibition started in late 2012. I found my gaze being drawn to a whole new world underfoot on the pavements, while out walking each morning in the neighbourhood we had moved into.  I started to record my daily observations with my phone camera for myself and share with friends through Facebook.  This then expanded into the Morning Walk Montage page to allow a wider community to engage as also on Instagram.  This has been an almost daily practice for over three and a half years, no matter where in the world I find myself. It is an art practice in itself but also the inspiration behind my paintings and print making. 
End September early October 2015, I had the first solo exhibition of paintings, I had been working on over a three year period, inspired by the detritus I collect and observe, “Of Time, the Elements and their Essence” also held at Intersections Gallery, Singapore.  Following on from this, the gallery was keen to share the Morning walk montage practice that underpins my creative processes with a wider audience .  I too wished to share ‘my discoveries’ with a wider audience, especially of Singaporeans, an alternative view of this island that is now my home and muse.   This led to this current exhibition.
‘Queen of Sheba, The Singapore Sidewalk’ showcases some of the Morning walk montage photographs along with the musings I put up on Facebook. They have been blown up into limited editions, Museum quality photographic prints.  I have also been working on some monotype prints using acrylic paint and the bits of detritus, adding another point of conversation into the exploration of and to give voice to this often ignored and trampled on ‘world’. Each of these montypes is unique and cannot be recreated.  The final piece in the show is an  abstract, oversize (160 x 500 cm), mixed media canvas my ‘Ode to the Singapore Sidewalk’ that has provided so much inspiration to me. It is my muse. 
 My book ’Of Time, the Elements and their Essence’ 2015 which contains highlights of the montages from over the three years along with illustrations of how they inform my paintings is also available. As is the ‘book in the box’ titled ’Queen of Sheba, The Singapore Sidewalk’ this is 48 of the montages in a loose sheaf of postcard style cards. Most mornings my husband, our canine companion, Bella and I walk for an hour or so around the streets of our neighbourhood we try different routes and so this format allows you to also walk among the montages as you please. At weekends we walk to and in the Singapore Botanic gardens, a number of montages are from there too. Both books have been designed and set by very imaginatively by Brian Loke and printed in Singapore by a local firm.  They are available at SS50 each, from the gallery.

J:                    Tell us a little about the title of the show?
K:                The title comes from a game I remember playing with my Mother as a young child.  We would have to walk to most places in the Indian Himalayan hill station I grew up in and to keep me amused my mother would be the Queen of Sheba requiring me to forage for various things along the way like a black stone or two red leaves and so on. Working on a book, to accompany the exhibition last year, I wondered if my penchant for detritus stems from those long forgotten childhood games. While now, I do not set out to ‘find’, as it is a more spontaneous process. I do not pluck or alter the pieces I am drawn too. Sometimes, I do collect and bring bits back to my studio and photograph the montage against whatever painting I am working on at the time. I only use an iphone camera to allow this spontaneity as I never know when or where something will catch my eye.

J:                    Your process is unique and it’s the observers eye that goes and picks her subjects and her inspirations on her morning walks. So when do you feel that Kavita starts emerging from all of this?
K:                The individual leaves, tree bark fragments, withering flowers, fruits and seeds, their shapes, textures, colours are beautiful in themselves and better than studying text books. At other times accidental juxtapositions reflect patterns of the macrocosm. The miscellaneous remnants of our built up and industrial environment also fascinate – the anthropomorphic line drawing qualities in curiously twisted bits of wire, the feel of rusted metal bits too parallel the more organic parts of our landscape. The pavements and surfaces are a canvas for these but increasingly evocative in themselves. It is the interplay of time, the elements and the essence of each individual piece that has me hooked. I see metaphors for my own mid-life stage in the way this interplay takes place. It has changed the way I ‘see’ the world around me. Often time a thought, a quote, a line of a song some reference will pop in my head and becomes the thought to accompany the montage. My life experience obviously colours how I look at what I see.

J:                 Singapore while known for its green patches is also doing away with a lot of its greenery to meet the urban needs. How do you see your work speaking of the times we live in?
K:                    When I first came to Singapore seven years ago, I was captivated by the majestic trees that line so many of the roads. Singapore is growing vertically at a bewildering rate, glass and concrete towering over the tree line.  The building work happens with minimum disruption, when it is finished grown trees and mature lawn appear - our city in a garden. The primary forest that covered Singapore is just a smidgeon now even the secondary forest cover is shrinking. Yet left untended or untamed in this climate, nature is quick to reclaim the land.  The ‘city’ looks after ‘the garden’, the detritus swept away and recycled as compost but before that happens time, the elements and their own essence only determine how these bits die and decompose. The only thing certain from the moment we are born is that we will die. The specifics of when and how remain unknown. By slowing down our frenetic pace of ‘life’ becoming more aware of our surroundings, observing natural processes around us, we can all become more mindful about our own way of living, how we treat other inhabitants of this planet we call ‘ours’ and hopefully nurture rather than negate this earth that sustains us all.

J:                  You have a niche here and galleries love working with artists who have found that. Yet in your last collection we saw more of paintings and in this we see a huge mix of mediums. So how was it received a) by the gallery b) viewer.
K:                Marie and Louise at Intersections have been amazingly supportive and have walked alongside me in this creative journey. They see the importance of understanding the whole of an artist’s practice not just what makes commercial sense and for that I am very grateful. In todays world - the information onslaught, instant gratification culture, the need to make a living and livelihood – so many demands on our time. However, we also must claw back that space to just stop for a moment, allow thoughts and ideas to mingle and spark debate and to enrich our emotional and spiritual sides
It is very gratifying and humbling that so many people who come into the gallery feel a natural affinity to what they see in my art works especially in the installations of the detritus I have collected. Being able to connect with people of different ages, ethnicities and life experience is extremely satisfying.

J:               You use your images to catalogue your finds and juxtapose those against some painted surfaces created by you. These have been captured by your mobile. As an artist who uses photography as her mediums, I have to ask you, Why your mobile and not a more serious camera to do the same?
K:                I never know when I may come across something that will catch my eye and so I continue to use my iphone camera to record my finds and take photographs. The resolution is excellent and as you see in the exhibition the results when printed are amazing.

J:                At any point do you feel you are actually moving out these subjects from their natural environment to make something what you see as your creation? Has this process seemed too contrived and contrary to process of being an observer?
K:             People connect with the montages because there is a freshness to them which wouldn’t be there if they were contrived. I do not feel I ‘create’ the montages I see my role more as a facilitator, a note taker and interpreter perhaps. It’s a bit like the tv programme ‘Britain’s got Talent’ or any such show, I give these bits of detritus the stage to be the star on.
J:                   Kavita thank you for taking the time to answer these questions? While I know you have told me that your journey enfolds along the way, could we get a privy to what we can expect from the sidewalks.
K:                    Joyotee thank you for taking time to go beyond the visual at the exhibition and in terms of my process. I never set out to make the detritus on the ground my muse. Art has always been important to me, even while I worked in HR at University  and in the NHS in the UK , as a mother to two young children. Since moving to Singapore it has become a way of life. As to what next, I follow the flow from within.

Friends and art lovers do go and catch the exhibition, Queen of Sheba: The Singapore Sidewalk, showing now to 28th of August at the, Intersections Gallery 34 Kandahar Street Singapore 198892. Also available at the Gallery are the books , Of Time, the Elements and their Essence priced at $50 and the book in a box  Queen of Sheba, The Singapore Sidewalk also priced at $50 only.

Artists talk by Kavita Issar Batra, on Queen of Sheba- The Singapore Sidewalk, is at 11am on the 14 August 2016 (Sunday) Please register with the gallery

Thursday, July 7, 2016

No Alarm Early Riser and Other Fairy Tales (Reader discretion advised)

I thought this up at 3:35 a.m. Yes, because I was awake then. Why you ask, well that is what the life of an artist/mother is. If you are wondering, why I am rambling about my motherhood role suddenly, let me take you to the beginning of the story.
A year ago, during the June holidays and between a hectic work schedule and a crazy year which saw me very busy artistically, I found myself signed up for a early morning knowledge session, to start  the day out with. It was a great positive way to begin the morning and the knowledge was deep and at some levels still sinking in. It always ended in a lovely breakfast in Little India and sometimes that was more of a motivation to crawl out of bed.
The guide, for these knowledge sessions is a very motivated individual and I always love watching how he imposes upon himself these sadhanas*. Sometimes a 30 day sugar free diet, (and mind you that to me is ultimate tapasya*) and sometimes a 30 day exercise challenge. The knowledge and the exercise challenge I was completely sold on and managed to do it as well.
The sugar free I knew was not physically possible for me, as I am a Bengali and its anti my Bengali genes to be sugar free. Over the years no matter how much everyone tries to scare me with aging looks due to sugar, I would rather be a happy, wrinkled, rotund, grey mass, than an unhappy fit, beautiful, creature. Yes I have made peace with my tires and I know those of you know me will agree that there is more for you to love.
To get back to my early morning ramblings and where I am going with this. So now my same lovely self help group (and I must add each of them are such lovely souls and such precious gems in my lives that when they read this I know they will laugh along with me) announced a 30 day challenge of waking up alarm free to listen to these knowledge sessions in our own homes. This was announced on the whatsapp group. For one year we have motivated each other with lovely messages and I have always been very active in this group, if not in others. This group also has the privilege of not being put on a one year silence. However the alarm bells in my head went ringing on the sounding of this challenge.
The first day I noted they all woke up at 5 etc to listen to the knowledge sessions and share their take back from it. I kept mum. For those of you who know me, you do know how tough a challenge that was for me. In fact I am learning that through this challenge, how to actually stay away from an uncontrollable urge to react to each whatsapp message. Day 2 came and went with another round of silence from my end. Day Three started with me unable to wake up early for my cycling due to a late night return from a friend’s house after the Eid celebrations on Day 2. I am sure over here my husband will remind me (and as everyone knows in a long marriage we all just wait to point the others follies and it’s almost like there is an imaginary score board) that the late night return was due to my late realisation that it was an open house from 1 p.m. and not 7:30 as I had assumed, and even that thanks to being involved with a canvas I am working on. We  only made it at 8:30 and although it was officially to end at 9 we stayed and chatted with them and it was a lovely evening.  
So to get back to the story. I woke up on Day 3 at 6:10 a.m. when my daughter came to kiss me a goodbye before she was leaving for school. Yes after four years of waking up at 4:45 a.m. so she could make it to her school bus at 5:45, which involved dragging her out of bed, getting her bathed, ready and between the two of us struggling over buttons (as we are a majority of dyslexics in the family) getting her to gulp her milk and make it to the bus stop on time was a major feat for the day. It’s been three years since, when I have graduated to waking to just saying a tata before she leaves for the day. Yesterday however she decided to leave later and I could hear her phone blaring and I had to rush to remind her that Baba “needs” to sleep until 7:30. I went back to bed, hoping to catch a few more winks, however Little one comes in to say bye and rolls in and hugs and holds on hoping each day that I will tell him he doesn’t have to go to school. Instead as a ritual I motivate him torun along and take his bullies on, once for all. After he leaves I know sleep has become a fiction and on the other hand I can hear the canvas beckon me. I get up to tackle this new baby and also pack up another baby that needs to meet its new Mommie.
My life this year has had a few changes, amongst which is a life without a car. I actually love the time and freedom it has given me. It just requires better planning for the day. My day was chalked out, hair cut, drop off the order and then meeting an artist friend and seeing her lovely exhibition. All of this was a tick with a smile and I even got a ride back home in time for my art class with my little angels. Although I summed all of this in two sentences this did fill up the day rather miraculously. After the kiddos left I quickly whipped up a dinner between shouting out to my fifteen year old, who, was practicing her drama facial exercises, at the prospect of a humble home cooked meal, that gourmet food was gourmet because you don’t have it every day. The Mumma monster who shoves vegetables down her kids throats was quite shocked to hear her soon to be 10 year old retort, I think we should keep these vegetables, for the poor especially since there are so many who don’t get to eat. Between choking over my food and laughter and thinking I sent this one to speech therapy,  I gathered enough composure to make him eat his dinner and pack up my paraphernalia for a sudden shoot for a 18 year olds birthday. 
Quickly jumped into a pair of comfy pants and a bright top to match the occasion and was happily surprised with a very scenic venue. Due to client confidentiality I shall not reveal the rest. It was a fun shoot and yes I do event photography as well, as after so many years I can’t expect the husband to foot my art bills. For those who are still gullible to think that art is a financially viable option, let me tell you yes it is, but not for the artist. It is a money disappearing act for the artist while it may not be the same for the galleries, collectors and so on and so forth.
Came home and retired for the night. Was hoping to catch an uninterrupted sleep but as by now you have realised, this is more of a page from the artist-Moms diary, I was woken up with gentle shaking on my leg, “Mumma, I can’t sleep again”. I had to do the needful of stroking the head helping to count the sheep and amidst all this came out the phone and the mid night voyeur in me. After a while he was fast asleep and I was left with my thoughts. Here is when I thought, should I actually wake up and join these knowledge sessions on Day Four or ………. And a big pause here…….........Or just turn over and sleep. By now you figured out what was the choice.
Moral of the story, while some challenges are for me, others are not. I have to learnt to say No, and mostly to myself.  I have learnt that I don’t need to pick battles. I am not a warrior and all I need to do is own my life and lifestyle, the way I want it. I am an artist, a Mom, a daughter, a daughter in law and amidst all this I do have a partner who not only is supportive but also the reason why this article has its punctuations in its place.

No persons or animals were hurt during the making of this piece. If hurt afterwards, sorry you did not heed the reader discretion. ;)
Sadhanas: Meditations
Tapasya: Austerities