Music of the spheres

Dec 11, 2013-Our worlds—the consciousness that informs our understanding of who and what we are, the awareness of all that we see and hear around us, as well as the realms and spaces we navigate in and out of each day—are strange, individual spheres. They are extremely hard to define; harder still, to try and fully understand. An entire cosmos exists within every one of us, and it is almost impossible to be completely aware, at all times, of what our minds, its several confounding layers of semi- and un- consciousnesses are up to.

The human universe is an amalgam of separate entities interacting with one another. In life, we at times come across individuals whose world views are bewilderingly similar to ours, and others whose perspectives are so different, they fail to make sense altogether. And yet we all co-exist, distinct, divergent elements held together in cosmic union, speaking different tongues that somehow manage to sound beautiful even when heard together, in jumbled, garbled unison. This idea of the ‘cosmos’ as a beautifully-arranged harmony, a close-to-perfect system, applies to art as it does to life. Often, a piece of art is a universe of and by itself. The visual arts in particular beckon our senses, forcing us to commune with parts and aspects of ourselves that we might have forgotten or hidden, as we are wont to, in the course of living each day.

Artist SC Suman’s Mithila Cosmos, Circumambulating the Tree of Life, which is currently being exhibited at the Siddhartha Art Gallery, is a reflection of and on life in this sense. In the more than 50 works the artist has painted for the exhibit, he has re-visited the familiar images of his Mithila heritage, creating entire microcosms in ink and paint, exploring mind, memory and meaning in the process. The recurring use of similar patterns, motifs, colours and images in his works creates a text of sorts with which the audience can interact, a vocabulary through which viewer and artist engage in meaningful dialogue.

A form that has played an important role in narrating stories—of family, religion, history and identity—and initiating young couples into conjugal life, Mithila art is perhaps, in its essence, an art of image-texts. Even in its traditional sense, Mithila art is a means of understanding and explaining the world, and its symbols, representations of a shared, communal language that helps the artist and (traditionally) her community attain this understanding.

As an artist who picked up his skills from the family and has now perfected a means of presenting indigenous iconographies in forms that appeal to what might best be referred to as Nepal’s ‘modern’ artistic sensibilities, Suman is working in quite a difficult space. He has taken it upon himself to not only present beautiful pictures of his Mithila heritage, but also make them relevant to the average exhibition-goer. His works are definitely pleasing to look at, the lines and details, the bold, beautiful colours, are charming, and his experience as a textile designer shows through in his approach to the aesthetics of his paintings. Village life in the Mithila region comes across as bold and lively, and resplendent with colour. Fish and fowl are abundant, fecund and fertile like the fields of the Tarai; the people, often represented in stick drawings typical of the Mithila region are living, breathing, happy. There is a strong sense of community in

Suman’s Village Stories: fathers and sons fly kites together, a little

girl is skipping rope and the sun shines brightly by the mango and mahua trees. There are beautiful doe-eyed women, snakes and peacocks bursting with colour, and images of the utterly besot Radha and Krishna.

Walking through the Mithila Cosmos exhibit feels somewhat like preparing yourself for a study of the symbols, meanings and vocabulary of Mithila art. You will find yourself looking out as opposed to looking in, trying to lend meaning as opposed to finding it or even stumbling upon it. Suman seems to be expressing the same idea, or rather the same ideal, in canvas after canvas, painting after painting, and although he does it with care and attention, a force might seem lacking at times. These are images you will look at and appreciate but perhaps not lend a piece of yourself to. The canvases are universes in themselves, full of detail, and of disparate elements working to create an appeasing whole. They are pretty images to be looked at, pictorial studies of the Mithila culture at their modern best.

The exhibition will continue till January 6

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