This new exhibition in Delhi marries art with poetry to spectacular result
One Soul Many Lives is set to the lyrical poetry of Laxmana Dalmia
New Delhi’s favourite home of all things art-related, Bikaner House, is currently showcasing One Soul Many Lives, an exhibition set to the lyrical poetry of Laxmana Dalmia. Co-curated by art critic and curator Georgina Maddox, and presented by Ashwini Pai Bahadur of Artspeaks India, the show features works by some of the country’s leading artists, such as Raghu Rai, Anjolie Ela Menon, Seema Kohli and Shampa Sircar Das, among others. The show opens on April 7 and is on till April 10.
Ashwini Pai Bahadur
ELLE: Tell us about the show: what prompted it, what is the idea behind it?
Georgina Maddox: One Soul Many Lives is inspired by Laxmana Dalmia’s poetry, which acted as the fulcrum upon which the show is balanced. Her work called for a diversity of voices and expressions, which is why the exhibition unfolds over a plethora of artworks created by 47 artists, whose works lend visual expression and fresh interpretation to the poems.
ELLE: Why did you decide to marry art with poetry for this show?
GM: The Dalmia family has been a patron of the visual arts for many years, and both Ashwini and I felt it would be a natural coupling for Laxamana’s poetry to come together with visual art. Poetry sometimes gets lost in the cacophony of the current social milieu in our visual and auditory–oriented society. Giving poetry a voice and a visual often makes it more approachable. Besides, introducing poems through this natural coupling with a visual or auditory mode of expression lends it certain vigour, and expands it beyond the pages of a book. Both poetry and art share the space of the metaphoric; they both hinge on the thrill of recognition.
ELLE: Tell us about the curatorial process: how long did it take, how did you go about it?
GM: It took us a year and a half to curate this show. The three of us brainstormed and then put out a call for artists. Ashwini has her stable of regulars, like Binoy Varghese, George Martin, Jatin Das and Hemi Bawa, and I, as an independent curator, have worked with moderns like Anjolie Ela Menon, Arpana Caur, Gogi Saroj Pal and Vasundhara Tewari Broota, along with contemporaries like GR and Pooja Iranna, Shivani Aggarwal, Birendra Pani, Baiju Parthan, Tapati Chowdhury, Samar Jodha, Raghu Rai, Arunkumar HG and Veer Munshi.
Cocoon by GR Iranna
ELLE: How exactly do art and poetry go hand-in-hand? Does a particular poem reflect an artwork — and so on?
GM: The poetry came before the art. Artists like Arunkumar HG, Tapati Chowdhury and Shivani Aggarwal made work especially for the show. Arunkumar reacted to the poem What Will Be Will Be with a dollop of humour, by using his trademark toy animals to capture the conversation between the grandmother (Laxmana) and her unborn grandchildren. Shivani interpreted the seven deadly sins — with each of her seven paintings metaphorically. The hand gestures, the flowers, needle and thread painted upon them evokes visual interpretations of the sin, and in essence, carves a path to absolution from it.
We chose celebrated photographer Raghu Rai’s image as the visual interpretation to Dalmia’s poem, The Devil And The Divine. This iconic image, which he captured near the Ganga, shows a flautist standing on a pier over a river. It is both serene and sublime, and this is in sync with the emotions evoked by the poem.
Flute player, Varanasi, by Raghu Rai
Anjolie Ela Menon’s spectacularly ornate painting of a dual-chambered heart and a body divided by the pageantry of blue paint into man and God speaks to Dalmia’s poem The Enemy Within, which depicts the heart as an organ that brings with it ‘a tender pain’.
ELLE: What can visitors expect to see?
GM: A rich plethora of artists and a variety of emotions reflected as the pages of a book. The exhibition has been designed and conceived as a physical manifestation of the poetry book. The 47 artworks have been handpicked from either existing works or specially commissioned paintings and photographs by India’s leading artists — all to be placed in conjunction with Dalmia’s poetry, to enable the viewer to see and feel in a new way. The intention is to create a visual landscape of imagery that evokes the experience of verse.
Keeping Afloat by Subrat Behera
ELLE: Tell us some of your favourite pieces on display.
GM: It is hard to choose just one favourite, so here are a few:
The Hanged Man is a tarot card and Dalmia is a trained tarot reader. However, this dark poem also has a silver lining. Artist Tapati Chowdhury captures this duality well in her graphic depiction (on raw silk) of a woman whose hair transforms into a tree upon which the ‘hanged man’ dangles his feet, defeating the odds which set the poet free.
Arpana Caur’s work is sensitive to women, the environment and the subaltern. This painting speaks to Dalmia’s A Lifespan, where the twin bodies of day and night are represented by two women — one sowing through the day; the other, whose body is folded like a garment at night — linking beautifully to the lines, “For we know somewhere behind that curtain, there’s a whole new day there for certain!”
Narrative Beads by George Martin
G R Iranna’s painting of ethereal monks balanced on a scaffold, map the spiritual journey of a soul sheeted by the cocoon that is woven around Dalmia’s words: “Is it because you are the one who has entered through the unbreakable walls of the citadel I built?” The work is indicative of life’s vicissitudes, and how tribulations become a badge of courage and fortitude.
The three chairs of artist Baiju Parthan, have at their centre, a skull, a bowl of pears and a chalice of wine (or is it blood?). Are these the Judge, Jury and Executioner that Dalmia talks of in her poem, The Order of Things? Parthan leaves the narrative mysteriously open. Pratap Morey’s digital collage embodies the cacophony of the city, pairing perfectly with the poem Confusion, while Pooja Iranna’s enigmatic and labyrinthine Memories express the clamourings of a ‘frozen heart.’
Outpost by Samar Jodha
Finally, there’s Birendra Pani’s painting, Handmade Memories, which consists of 16 rhombi-shaped panels, filled with imagery of the heart, the brain and the tears that touch the cheek of the protagonist.
Handmade Memories by Birendra Pani
April 7-10 at Bikaner House, Pandara Road, Pandara Flats, India Gate, New Delhi. Tel: 011 2338 3469