“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away -- a sordid boon! ~
... Great God, I’d rather be a pagan in a creed outworn,
So that I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn:
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea,
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.”
from ‘Sonnet’, 1802, by William Wordsworth
The erosion of spiritual and aesthetic values is the inevitable fallout of living in the contemporary wasteland of a concrete jungle. A human soul that is disconnected with Nature, and torn asunder from one’s authentic cultural roots, is a deeply-ailing, suffering entity, thirsting and struggling to breathe --- cut-off from the very source of Culture, Art and Poetry. This malaise, evident to the early 19th C. British Romantic poet Wordsworth, at the advent of the Industrial Revolution in England (see poem above), seems to apply today within the alienating, multinational mazes of Gurgaon.
As an art critic examining painters and studios in India’s Millennial City, I have been disconcerted by the visual and psychological ennui caused by Gurgaon’s parched and uprooted landscape. While some artists desperately attempt to conceal their angst and mental turmoil with make-believe scenarios and distracting, ‘trendy’ tonalities, most often Gurgaon’s nascent painters cannot conceal their deep sense of sadness, alienation and isolation. Gurgaon’s artists seem to constantly create images that are literally ‘full of emptiness’ --- canvasses, installations and sculptures that document dark, solitary, anguished figures, struggling alone in stark expanses of ravaged earth – sans the harmony of the Human Connect, and totally bereft of the joyous transcendence of spiritualism. A distinct absence of greenery, simplicity, bonhomie, and joi de vivre is evident in a vast body of Gurgaon-based artworks.The Muse does not lie.
For a culture to evolve and expand, the necessary first step is a ruthless self-examination and introspection. For artists, this involves a difficult detachment -- a study of their own damaged psyche, in order to create a balance-sheet of their themes, forms, ideas, palettes -- the essential energies, components and concepts that emerge in one’s paintings. Why is Gurgaon’s art so often utterly devoid of all the aesthetic details of our own intricate heritage --- our authentic Indian visual legacy, so to speak? The reason seems to be that Gurgaon’s conflicted, aspiring youngsters, and its hard-pressed ‘professional’ adults, surrounded by its mall-and- multinational maze, are spiritually lost. Lost in an urban desert, and finding no peaceful cultural oasis. As difficult as it may be now to look this unnerving truth in the face, it has to be clearly acknowledged and grappled with – otherwise Gurgaon will have to deal, soon enough, with far more dire, grim consequences at the social, cultural and psychological levels.
Vibha Maurya’s recent paintings at Epicentre --- albeit titled ‘Soulful Reality’ --- were actually a telling series, that chillingly documented the soul-less solitude that haunts Gurgaon’s aspiring, striving, ambitious women, hopelessly morphing into a neutered, antiseptic ‘international’ model of womanhood. Who is the real woman who created these awkward, unbalanced, airbrushed, preening millennial morphs on canvas?
Far from being a hardened Gurgaonite, Vibha is actually surviving stoically, very far from her origins and roots. She was born in a small Indian village called Chiraigaon in faraway Varanasi. A BSc from Benaras Hindu University, she learnt the basics of painting in Lucknow and Pune. She spoke to me of the complete contrast between her beginnings and her current high-rise life. The city of Delhi initiated a series of changes that sealed her fate. She began by studying pottery at Delhi’s Blue Pottery Trust, but found the painstaking handmade processes of pottery too difficult to cope with. This was followed by a mandatory art-appreciation course at Delhi’s National Museum. Now settled in Sector 21’s HUDA area, the painter confessed her “sense of alienation in Gurgaon.” Equally, she also admitted to sleep-disorders and anxiety, relating to the strains of completing paintings to exhibit in a harsh environment that tests one’s patience at every possible level. And yet, painting and the palette are her only escape.
Vibha’s woman on canvas --- who does not look like her in any way --- is a typical ‘modern urban prototype’, perched on bare windowsills, all alone beside skyscrapers – her lonely gaze often downcast, detached, disconnected. And yet the painter says, “she is my soul.” Strange indeed is this utterance. There is no poetry of graceful Benaras saris here; no feminine histories ensconced in rich weaves, patterns and embroideries; no shaded mango-groves by the ghats; no strains of the sitar or the conch-shell; no fragrant jasmine or marigold garlands.
The titles—like Desires, Strength, and Contemplation—conceal layers of facile aspirations. It is only in a few very small pen and ink drawings on paper that a wider, truer Indian reality emerges --- with naively-etched clusters of impoverished migrant labourers, and stray herds of cows, trying to find their way through septic serpentine traffic and harsh hi-rises.
Vibha made me a promise: that there will be introspection and communion with her own true nature in her future visualisations. And it was with the following thought that I quietly left this Gurgaon Exhibition: “For what shall it profit a (wo)man, if (s)he shall gain the whole world, and lose (her) own soul ?” ~The Bible.
I would like to wish a Merry Christmas to all
those souls who search for, and contribute to, good Art in Gurgaon.