As a child, I would make idols of Saraswati and Ganesh through clay, perform a pooja, and immerse them in water,” recalls artist Nivedita Mishra (54). Similar instances from her childhood have laid the creative foundation for her recent body of work ‘Nitya’, a solo show featuring sculptures inspired by Tantra, an esoteric spiritual practice in Hinduism. Currently on display at the Triveni Kala Sangam, Mandi House, Mishra’s exhibition is centred on the feminine form that the artist explores through the lens of mythology.
“I wanted to depict Shiva and Shakti in my series because you cannot separate the two. I have been curious about spiritualism since childhood. Today, with war and the pandemic, there is no certainty anywhere. I think in today’s times, spiritualism is the only path we can follow to be calm and normal,” Mishra shares.
Channelling divine energy
Growing up in Rakshimunda—a remote tribal village in Western Odisha—Mishra was exposed to several indigenous traditions, memories of which are incorporated in her recent work. Mishra affirms that her focus, right from the start, was to create an aura that can depict the past and the devi’s (goddess) infinite power.
One of her artworks depicts 64 Yoginis made with bronze, surmounting wooden planks. As per Tantric tradition, the Yogini is a sacred feminine force that appears in a group of 64. A thick layer of haldi (turmeric) marks the boundary of this artwork. “Haldi has an auspicious presence in our culture. It has medicinal value and is a symbol of purity. Its presence creates an aura of its own,” Mishra says.
The artwork stands out for its intricate detailing on metal that Mishra admits to have attempted for the first time. The rustic look of this piece further conveys an impression that the faces are speaking to you. The artist admits that her work ‘Kamakhya’ is deeply personal to her, given the connection she feels to Goddess Kamakshi, who is the goddess of love in Hinduism. The artwork, made using black marble and granite, is a homage to the goddess who Mishra mentions “lives within us all”.
The artist’s distinct creative voice and deep interest in a subject that has imprinted her heart and soul for ages trickle through her work. “This wasn’t just work [created] in seven months. I’ve known this concept since childhood; it is a product of 35 years of my sculpting practice,” she adds.
Developing a unique voice
‘Navgraha’, a body of work representing the nine astral bodies explores their connection with Shiva. Inscribed with shlokas (verses), traditional symbols, and animal figures, these sculptures have been placed outdoors, where Mishra says, “it makes an instant connection with the sky”. Another featured work depicts human sacrifice, an important component of Tantric rituals. Talking about this controversial artwork, Mishra shares, “I have shown that they are aware of the fact that they’ll be sacrificed, they have surrendered themselves to the goddess. In return, they are seeking peace and harmony for society.
They are seeking nirvana (an idyllic state) through this process.” The artwork—an amalgamation of stone, wood, cloth, and many indigenous elements—seek to make the viewer “travel back in time” to the 1st millennium AD, only to gape at traditions that were once part of society.
Mishra has dedicated this series to her father, Nityanand Mishra, a former Member of Parliament, who passed away in July last year. Recounting his memories, Mishra concludes, “When I was little, he could very well notice the talent inside me. This show isn’t a tribute to him, it is a gift.”