A joint exhibition of paintings by Victoria A.M. and Wilhelm Bronner depicts the meeting of cultures

Victoria A.M.’s ‘Moonshade’ tells the story of a baby girl at birth, traces her growth into childhood and womanhood, through the joys and sorrows of life, intertwining it with the metaphor of a river’s lifeline. Much like life’s unexpected turns, dangers lurk within the river’s beauty too. The painting, dominated by two women resting beneath jasmine flowers, is inspired by Victoria’s 2006 poem on Indian villages that told of the unspoken sadness of flowers whose nectar has been stolen by bees at dusk. “A woman’s life in this world is like that too; the small ‘sadness’es of her being go unseen,” she says. ‘Moonshade’ is on display at ‘East Meets West’, an exhibition of Victoria’s works with those of German artist Wilhelm Bronner.

Just across the room stands Wilhelm’s installation of 20 pairs of wooden squares each marked with ‘E’ and ‘W’ on its corners. Two peers figure in each pair, one representing the Indian side of things and the other, the German side. For instance, while the German uses his umbrella against the rain, the Indian shields himself from the sun. “I plan to take this exhibition to Germany too. So, for the Indians here, this is an introduction to our culture, and for the Germans, it’s an introduction to India,” he says.

Wilhelm and Victoria met in 2013, through a common friend, at Victoria’s Mattancherry studio while Wilhelm was here for the Biennale last March. Victoria had earlier been introduced to German culture through an exhibition of her works in Berlin in 2011, held as a fundraiser for Adivasi girls. Wilhelm has been to India six times in the last 40 years. The two decided to collaborate on an art show that would depict the meeting of Indian and German cultures. ‘East Meets West’ features four of Wilhelm’s pieces, besides the installation, and six by Victoria — two oils and four acrylic-on-canvasses.

The meeting of cultures is best seen in Wilhelm’s ‘The Indian City’, done only in red, black and white. It is his artistic impression of traffic in big Indian cities where buses, auto rickshaws and cars manoeuvre between bikes, cows and dogs, in a chaotic confusion that somehow functions. “I was overwhelmed by the sound and noise of India when I first came, and this shows my experience of it as just an outsider’s observations, not judgements.” In the central three pieces, ‘East-West faces’, a pair of eyes looks out of each quadrant of the square paintings, and hands reach out from one side to the other in friendship, symbolic of the mutual connection between cultures. “I want to show that though we have different social behaviours and politics, we are above all human and connected to the world.”

Victoria’s paintings reflect her education in Shankaracharya’s teachings, and explore humankind’s relationship with this earth. ‘Shell collectors’ and ‘Little land and even less water’ deal with the struggles of everyday living; the first depicts women collecting shells for income, and the second shows women searching for water. ‘Past and Present’ expounds the idea further saying that regardless of race, all our bodies return to the soil once the soul leaves. Two women separate the canvas, the first wholly human, the second made of mud with birds shooting out of her eyes. “Both are self portraits,” says Victoria. The exhibition is on till March 16.