River of Faith: Artist Jayasri Burman's 'giant' ode to the Ganges
For the past one week, Delhi’s Bikaner House has had a new resident to welcome guests—artist Jayasri Burman’s ‘Jahnavi’. The larger-than-life sculpture, at 22 ft, exudes an aura of strength and resilience. At Burman’s solo exhibition, River of Faith—her tribute to the Ganges—the sculpture leaves visitors in
awe of an artist who has never shied away from competing with herself.
Burman’s Jahnavis, a set of four sculptures, encompass an entire universe in them. While discussing the idea behind the bronze sculpture, Burman says, “You go to New York and see the Statue of Liberty, Madonna in Europe but why don’t we have our goddess in a sculpture?.” About the work that went into it, she says, “It took several years to get the concept right and a little more than a year to put the whole thing together. First, I made the sculpture with clay, then moulded it in fibreglass, later put in wax mould and finally the casting with bronze. It is three pieces—the crown is one piece, another is the alligator and last the mother figure. I had two helpers when I was making the sculpture with clay and finally gave it to the technician for the bronze casting. The entire sculpture was made in Kolkata and the final patina (the green layer covering the bronze sculpture) was done in Delhi.”
Then there is the five-foot fibreglass piece made with 24- carat gold that sparkles in dark. One of the notable features among all the four Jahnavis is how their faces are same but they carry different expressions. All four are winged beauties, as if conveying a message of freedom.
The 61-year-old is exhibiting her works at this scale after 11 years. It’s a fitting tribute by someone who’s grown up on the banks of the river Ganges. “Born and brought up in Kolkata, my life was spent on the banks of the Ganga. Every year, my father used to take the entire family for a dip in the river for my grandmother’s death anniversary. I would sit down and look at the river, and marvel at the fantastic life around it,” says the artist.
Reciting a stotra from a notebook like a diligent student, her face full of devotion and childlike innocence, Burman says, “I still remember my father reciting this long stotra to us. I used to be mesmerised by it. I chant other things but can’t remember this,” she says about the stotra dedicated to the Ganges.
The current collection of paintings is in Burman’s characteristic style—intricate detailing, Indian motifs and every work telling a story that is close to her heart. An example is Nandini, where goddess Ganga is holding a baby girl. Art consultant Jesal Thacker explains how Burman’s work transitions through various forms of beauty, in its heroic, graceful and mytho-poetic characteristics. “Her works may appear to be mythological narratives but they are rooted in a deeper allegory of questions pertaining to the self and its relation with nature,” she says.
Burman, who mostly works in her Delhi studio that she shares with artist husband Paresh Maity, finds beauty in the strength of women. The poet in her seems to burst with joy as she goes back to talking about Kolkata, once again. She says, “Like many others, I too feel my mother is the most beautiful woman. I’ve seen her wake up at 5 am, cook and work tirelessly till night and then retire to the terrace and play the sitar in the dark. My mother is my muse.”
While she’s been creating art related to the Ganges for years now, the pandemic left a deep impact on her work. She says, “In the last two years, we have thrown many dead bodies into the Ganges but she’s washed them out. Our ultimate goal is that the bodies we throw into her should attain moksha and she fulfils this desire.”
The exhibition presented by Gallery Art Exposure, on till today in Delhi, is curated by Ina Puri. “While the world came to a standstill during the pandemic, Burman, an optimist, continued to believe that the darkness would lift; her faith gave her that hope. So she created a vast body of work, consumed by restless energy,” says Puri.
As Burman’s Jahnavis prepare to travel to the city they’re inspired by, they seem to have conveyed their creator’s message very well. It will be exhibited in Kolkata till March 1, 2022.