The intertwined snakes are red and golden, looking tall and proud like Rani Padmini. Agnihotri, the golden sheep with a powerful look in its eyes, was welcoming everyone to unknown lands of excavation sites. Surya Putri, the horse, was reflecting the colours of a bright sun and a dark moon with different patterns etched on her body.
Every painting had a story to tell, a land of mystery to be unlocked, and a message to be derived. While zooming into the paintings of Helen Brahma at the 'Guardian Spirits' exhibition held at Cholamandal Artists' Village on Saturday, art lovers couldn't stop talking about how Helen has merged myth and reality, with strong historical and cultural research.
Her series of artworks showcases animals dressed in the Sambalpuri ikat fabric, the traditional woven textile from Odisha. "Helen brings Odisha to Chennai," said Gopinath P, founder and member of Cholamandal Artists' Village.
Addl DGP (Tamil Nadu Police) Amaraesh Pujari, the chief guest. at the event added, "Helen has created an immense world of invaluable artworks."
Commencing her artistic career by depicting still-lives and nature studies, the artist’s breakthrough came when she met art historian Elinor Gadon, who was researching on temples in Odisha.
"I saw my local surroundings with a new perspective after accompanying her on tours to historical places around Odisha. My interest was piqued by the veneration for females expressed in goddess worship. At the same time, as a young artist moving into motherhood, I was intrigued by the disparity between religious and real-life representations of women. This served as the starting point for my iconography, which traversed the divine and the human," said Helen.
Her interest in painting textile came from the idea to create something related to women that has an eternal life. "I painted on saris using sindoor, haldi, bindi etc. After a period I felt that the sari's soul would rupture when it is left unworn for a long time. I wanted to create something that can be preserved for a long time with a deep message. So I thought of painting textile on a canvas," shared Helen.
The several pieces on the animals and birds that accompany the yoginis are shown as iconic images with their own existence in her art. "The Yogini temples of India are roofless shrines dedicated to the female masters of yoga in Hindu tantra, who are sometimes identified as deities, who embody the divine feminine power," explained Helen.
She also uses the vahana, the icons she has painted, to share her views on gender parity - just as the male vahana supports and protects the Yogini, men should ideally use their strength to nurture rather than dominate women. H
istory is explored in Helen’s work, with its cycle of creation and undoing. While attempting to comprehend the history and labour behind each piece, we realise that the artist is attempting to visually address a problem that has yet to be resolved in the reality outside her painting.