Ever since its prehistoric inception as sketches on cave-walls that strove to immortalise the drama of human existence, Art, with its magic mix of form and colour, its emotive and expressive intent, beauty and visual harmony, has been like an oasis in a desert for humans striving to make sense of the difficult experience called Life. Without the vital components of Truth, Beauty and Harmony, Art fails in its very purpose. These essential aesthetic tenets remain immensely relevant to Art in our own times, with the infiltration of Absurdist, Deconstructive, and Installation modes which seem to trap art in an ‘experimental’ nether-zone of theatrically-motivated ‘messages’.
Idealism is inherent in the very practice of Fine Art. Art’s purpose is to inspire, delight and elevate the human soul, that is most often trapped in banal and prosaic routines. A leading contemporary artist once explained it thus ~ ‘But for Art, man would die of boredom’. Art’s inner eye possesses the magic of transforming the rote of routine into the transcendental: depicting a higher realm where Beauty, Inspiration and Idealism remain eternal. We are fortunate that, in spite of all the tensions and travails of modern living, and an infiltration of cynical, materialistic thought-processes, Indian Art’s ideals of beauty and its essential tenets of harmony have not only survived, but continue to thrive. The best of our Art staunchly provides us with the oasis of beauty and harmony that every human craves. As an Art critic, it is extremely heartening when I observe Indian Art’s genuine ideals thriving within our own context.
The sensitive sculptures of Seema Singh Dua, on display at Quill and Canvas Gallery, are recent examples of this rarefied and harmonious aesthetic realm, containing the power to calm the senses. This emerging sculptor, trained at Delhi’s Triveni Kala Sangam, has also worked in commercial art and textile design, and practises the violin. The current Exhibition displays eight delicate sculptural works in varied media – from Murals, Fibre and Driftwood to Copper, Steel and Bronze. The best of these sculptures evoke a classical feel, yet are equally redolent with the charm of romance and Indian emotive expression. Within a medium to small format, these chiselled creations confirm that quality and subtlety are more important than sheer size, in an aesthetic context. Dua’s dignified creations are gracefully displayed in this quiet, small gallery’s vertical expanse.
Eloquent in emotional content, the sculptor’s penchant for the violin is finely-evoked in an interesting piece titled Serenade, whimsically constructed in copper, steel and fibre. Here, a pair of suspended marble-hued moulds of human hands gently play upon a fine copper and steel violin, that has been delineated in minimalist, lyrical, graphic lines. The piece combines the minimalist with the classical, breathing-in empty expanses of air and metal with abstract, poetic finesse. This musical evocation in sculpture bears an internationally-classical feel, as do some other semi-representational works that portray the subtle nuances of the human hand and body.
Dua’s Brass and Fibre sculpture Khush Kismat, a pair of beautiful, dark human hands gracefully entwined in repose upon a beaten metal dome-like base, generates optimism and hope. The sculptor says she would like her renditions “to speak in a quiet way, to protect, endear and inspire. My sculptures are not a medium to transfer a ‘message’, but are experiences in themselves, that allow the viewer to decide their meanings.” This is what I mean when I posit idealism as an essential facet of Fine Art. Elaborating upon this idea, Dua states -- “Throughout history, artists have played an important part in documenting social norms, beliefs and life. Via art, efforts are made to imitate, supplement and alter works of Nature. Presentations and perceptions may vary, but the end-product is meant to generate admiration when one beholds it.” Fine Art is, in this sense, a role-model for society – to observe, to pause, to emulate.
Human figurations by Dua in Fibre and Driftwood, such as Serenity and Majestic, incorporate bold Indian colours like red, gold and turquoise as effective ‘patinas’, mirroring relevant human emotions such as energy and tranquillity. The deceptively-small sculpture entitled Serenity, portraying a dreaming blue figurine with small golden birds resting upon a piece of delicate driftwood, brings to mind both the mastery of Rodin’s imposing bronzes and the Danish sculptural classic ‘Little Mermaid’ – without abandoning the quintessential laasya and laavanya of our own Indian sculptural tradition. Dua’s romantically-entwined couples, in gold-leaf on fibre and dark bronze, convey similar timeless emotions.
By contrast, the ‘RAQS Collective’s ‘Serai Reader 09’ Exhibition, on at the Devi Arts Foundation as an installatory ‘work in progress’ that will continue until April 2013, fails to simulate either aesthetic beauty or authentic emotion. Given the massive vistas of space, over two floors and four vast rooms, this assemblage of semi-formed installations is a visual disappointment. Art does not require ruthless demolition in order to be ‘cutting-edge’ or ‘contemporary’. Fine Art is a skill, a meditative discipline, a sadhana involving finesse – that deserves respect and elevation. ‘Sarai Reader 09’ leaves one instead with a sinking feeling of cultural desecration. Devoid of aesthetic parameters or valid content, this series of arid installations, comprising dry straw, blank paper scraps and empty spaces, seems a parched parody.
One of the central ‘displays’ at ‘Sarai 09’ is a mirror in a chor-bazaar carved wooden frame, bearing excerpts from an 1878 Nietzche passage scrawled across it in an immature script. The text quotes such ‘intellectual’ cliches as: ‘What remains of Art ... the metaphysical assumption of the visible world of only appearance...” – which actually cleverly conceals an inability to create great Art.
India remains a country rich in the most awe-inspiring, impressive Art practices, prevalent from its remotest tribal regions to its most cosmopolitan cities. In genuine Indian Art, there is neither emptiness nor cynicism, but a wealth of truth, beauty and emotion. It is not imperative that our Art must quickly be represented in the shiny corridors of chic western art-fairs in order to establish its credentials, or to be validated. Genuine Indian Art’s world-renowned skills, and contemporary relevance, can be gracefully and quietly showcased with dignity, within our own time-tested parameters.