Walls divide devotion. Walls separate worship and spiritual manifestations. In art, a wall cements them all. Give Delhi-based artist Manjunath Kamath a wall. He gives you Vishvaroopa, a mammoth work in water and tea stain depicting the grand avatar of Vishnu in return. Kamath meticulously put up the 1008 frames of different sizes together for Vishvaroopa over three days with the help of assistants.
The work is part of Forms of devotion: The Spiritual in Indian Art, a diverse and multidimensial art project covering different genres, expressions, faiths, devotional practices and media in India and Indian art. The show, scooped from a huge collection belonging to the Museum of Sacred Art (MOSA), Belgium, was put together by noted curator Sushma K Bahl and Archana B Sapra and displayed in collaboration with the Lalit Kala Akademi.
Martin Gurvich, 52, director, Museum of Scared Art, Belgium and Italy, says, “During the initial years, the collection was mainly traditional Indian art. I thought something was wrong with contemporary Indian art. My whole consciousness changed. I opened up to western contemporary art. We saw the traditional influence. My father (Uruguayan painter, potter and musician Jose Gurvich) died very young. He had a huge collection of works.”
Gurvich’s collection is a gentle pilgrimage of sorts for viewers exposed to the concept of high and low art, styles, textures, and approaches. He says, “This collection was my donation to MOSA. I acquired the works from various artists through the sales of my father’s works. That’s art for art. A lot of pieces were kept in Uruguay (in a museum in Montevideo which is named after his father). I would like to bring up a permanent museum in Belgium.” The display of 350 works is an ice breaker for the uninitiated. On this particular day, Kamath’s Vishvaroopa became the first point of reference to contemporary and tribal art for a group of students from a Delhi school. It’s a great start.
Glimpses of faith
● Badri Narayan’s Untitled
● Francis Newton Souza’s Jesus
● Yusuf Arakkal’s Sun Wheel
● Raja Ravi Varma’s Shesh Shayi
● Shobha Broota’s Mirror Image
● Kalam Patua’s Parvati and baby Ganesh
● Nandan Purkayastha’s Durga Puja Pandal
● Cop Shiva’s The Street As Studio
● Parama Libralesso’s Iconic portrait of Zarathustra
● Jayasri Burman’s Shiva
● Drdha Vrata Gorrick’s Hanuman
The calligraphic works from Dhrupad exponent Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar and his sister Qamar Dagar gave a glimpse of their well-rounded perception of expression and an immense search for musicality on paper. At Forms of Devotion, your faith, my faith , his faith, and her faith dissolve in the colours, a language of motifs, moving stories in sculptures, that fine stretch of the nib dipped in ink, and devotion.
Gurvich adds, “There are four different attitudes to religion in general. One is old fashioned and sectarian, not attractive to many. Then, you have those who want to reject religion altogether, the extreme secularism; there are those who want to merge the spiritual and traditional. You can be spiritual and religious, at the same time, and you also appreciate the other.” Forms of Devotion points at India, the vigorous devotee of faiths, philosophies, beliefs and devotional practices that co-exist beautifully against an uproarious backdrop of the tumultuous West and its craggy perception of her spiritual texture.
S H Raza’s sprightly Prem Bindu whirls and culminates into the centre, the bindu of the cosmos. Olivia Fraser’s tranquil deconstruction of motifs in Cosmic Body places Srinathji, an avatar of Krishna, in the eyes, perhaps, of a devotee. Param Tomanec’s striking image of funeral pyres blazing at Varanasi’s Manikarnika Ghat, a picture shot from a boat in the Ganges kindles a humbling realisation of death. Artist Sidharth’s work Baba Nanak depicts Guru Nanak sitting under a tree surrounded with birds and animals. A plough and the flourishing fields around Guru Nanak show the harmonious co-exitence of life, labour and devotion. Gurvich is a Krishna devotee. He plays the flute. At MOSA, Belgium, he invites well-known Indian artists and musicians for talks and performances. Currently, he is focussing on making the collection travel East. “We can make it much smaller. There are only 60 works in our upcoming show in Thailand. We can go up to 500 works in one exhibit.”
Forms of Devotion ends on April 28