Seema Kohli
Seema Kohli

'Restless Lines in the Art of Seema Kohli' book review: A potent overview loaded with nuances

To culminate a 40-year multi-disciplinary prolific practice of an artist such as Kohli into a single book is a monumental task.

Artists do not manifest themselves in a single medium. As one begins the journey of creative expression, various disciplines, materials and processes come in the way for a practitioner. The ideas explored, thus, find newer ways to be expressed. Visual artist Seema Kohli in her four-decade-long career has had it no different. Trained as a painter, her language has expanded to explore mark making through drawing, painting and printing, as well as lens-based work using photography and videos, 3D objects using cast metal and, more recently, performative pieces. At the core remains her quest to find herself. Her references are her memories and learnings from a highly stimulated upbringing, and her book, Restless Lines in the Art of Seema Kohli, is both an archive and a memoir of her journey thus far.

It is broadly divided into two main sections that follow the elaborate introduction authored by Annapurna Garimella. As the editor, she attempts to review and discuss the flow of the various chapters. She also shares her experience of the making of the book itself.

The first section is titled ‘The Body is Her Studio’. Figure and the human body are critical elements in Kohli’s work. She believes that the soul is significant, but for it to live and manifest itself, it has to come together with the body. In her repertoire, the physicality of the body, therefore, takes an equal importance. Writer Adwait Singh in his essay,

‘The Body as an Egg’, references Kohli’s work as genderless, and one with the cosmos. “Often in transition, transaction or translation, the body of Kohli’s work becomes difficult to isolate from the environs,” he writes. In continuation, Amruta Patil writes a piece, titled ‘I Go to the Studio Like One Goes to a Beloved’. For Kohli, her own appearance and work are intricately intertwined. She believes that there is a direct bearing of how she looks and how her studio receives her.

“When we pay attention to how we look while meeting other people, why must we not treat the studio with similar emotion? After all, it is the most important ‘relationship’ for an artist,” she says. In the essay, ‘Anamnesis of an Artist’, Sindhura D Manjunath discusses the history and recollection of all that informs Kohli’s work. She elaborates this through the process of making, the physical space of the studio, and the body.

The second section, ‘Our Myths Feed her Fantasies’, explores the ideas of mythical metaphors in Kohli’s practice. Charty Dugdale reminisces her travel with Kohli to Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand in her essay, ‘Walking Behind Durga’. The road journey, undertaken a few years ago, traced the 64-yogini belt and a key element in Kohli’s work, the divine feminine.

Dugdale writes, “Discovering the goddess gave Kohli a sense of confidence, of power.” Vaishnavi Ramanathan, a US-based writer, focuses on the concept of beauty in all of Kohli’s art. While each of us have our own definition of beauty, for Kohli, the heavily detailed, often ornate, embellished works make the imagery magnetic. Her desire is to draw her viewers to her works and hold them up and close. She achieves this through the exquisite splendour of beauty. Katie Lazarowicz explains in her chapter, titled ‘Her Workshop is her Shrine’, why Kohli treats her place of work and creation like a temple.

Kohli says, “I owe a lot to my work space. In the morning, when I enter the studio, I greet it and bid it goodbye when I leave. It is an embodied person for me.” The vibrations and chi have a direct bearing on her works. “…there is something wild with colours and expression, but done with elegance and great dignity. Her awareness of these energies extends into a process that can be described as a type of worship and ritual,” writes Lazarowicz. Concluding chapters focus on her print-making practice and performance work, authored by Lina Vincent and Sona Dutta respectively.

To culminate a 40-year multi-disciplinary prolific practice of an artist such as Kohli into a single book is a monumental task. The 284-page hard-bound book gives a potent overview, and yet loaded with nuances, through the voices of writers who have known her over the years.

The New Indian Express