New York-based artist Jayanthi Moorthy felt her heart thud against her rib cage when Hurricane Sandy hit the United States on an October morning in 2012. Moorthy had no hope that her 12-foot-high painting—‘Wisdom’, which was part of an outdoor installation at the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art in Staten Island—would survive in the hurricane.
But it did. “It was nothing short of a miracle,” she says. Three-and-a-half years later, the painting has been put for a display at the OED Gallery at Mattancherry, near Kochi. The painting depicts a man and a woman, placing their hands around each other’s waist. “When there is limitless love between two persons, you understand the wisdom of being together,” the artist says.
Moorthy has titled her first exhibition in India as ‘Together Alone’ and there is a reason behind it. “When I would come to India, I wish to be part of community,” she says. “But after a while, I felt a yearning for solitude. I see this mixed reaction in a lot of people.”
To illustrate this, Moorthy has arranged 12 small canvases at a place in such a way that they look the letter Y together. On one set of six portraits, ‘Me’ is written and ‘You’ on other six. “Two strangers meet and then sparks fly and they end up being together,” she says. If you look from the bottom upwards, they can also end up going away from each other.
In another work, a faceless woman—clad in red saree and purple blouse—is making a garland of flowers. This garland is real and sticks out from the painting. All across the painting, a verse of the Bhagavad Gita—karmanye vadhikaraste maphaleshu kadachana—is written. She got the inspiration from women making garlands at a market in Chennai. “Something about the activity was beautiful,” she says. “They were smiling, while doing their work. Sometimes, people get themselves into a routine to be free from thought. When you do routine work, it makes you calmer and fulfilled. It could be a meditative experience.”
What is unusual about Moorthy’s works are the threads of paint that run through the canvas. This has happened because of her unique method of painting. She puts paints in cones of plastic paper, and squeezes it out. Thereafter, she uses her hand, instead of a brush, to draw the image. As a result, the paint looks like single threads. “I am obsessed with lines,” she says.
Born in Kolkata, Moorthy grew up in Kochi. After graduating in commerce, she moved to Chennai where she learnt design, animation and digital media. In 2004, she met Sri Kaushik, a New-York based professional, and then both got married. This was the beginning of her artistic journey. At the exhibition, she has drawn in black and white on the floor, using charcoal and rice flour. “While black represents darkness, white is the light,” the artist says. In the middle is a circle of unlit terracotta lamps. “These black lamps, found in temples, can contain your fears,” she says. “And when you light them, your distress is overcome.”
Next to the work is a wooden box, where you can write your worst fear on a piece of paper, fold it, and slide it through its narrow opening. Later, these worries are projected on the ground, as sentences, which move from one side to the other. The fears include, ‘Not being interesting’, ‘being lonely’, ‘losing a loved one’, ‘taking risks’ and ‘the human capacity for cruelty’.