Spatters of black ink across thick paper with charred edges and sepia tones unravel into a story. A story of a dysfunctional, morbid word plagued by death, disease, destruction, vices and suffering. Barriers crumble, beliefs disappear, insanity becomes a spectrum not a border, darkness is allowed to not just permeate but flourish. Nothing remains sacred or perhaps everything is.
But for artist and photographer, Ari Jayprakash who has created the Kuru Chronicles (which derives its name from a disease affecting cannibals when they consume human brain matter) in collaboration with writer Anisha Sridhar, this is nothing more than an artistic expression of an interesting form of spirituality, “We knew there was stuff here that may make people uncomfortable but we will stick to that,” he says, rather vehemently. “Freedom of thought and expression is an essential aspect of artistic evolution and we have restricted ourselves too long.” He believes however, that this is changing for the better, “People are beginning to push boundaries. I think India will produce a lot of interesting art, music, dance and theatre over the next few years,” he adds.
His own artwork (he refers to it as Kuru art) certainly not just pushes boundaries but tramples all over them, leaving the viewer too enthralled to even notice that they existed in the first place. “Kuru uses black ink done mainly with a calligraphy pen. At the end of the execution the pictures are burnt. The burning was done as an offering to the fire God and also because it gives it an old rustic sort of look and an interesting shading.”
Ari, a self-taught artist has dabbled in various forms of visual art as long as he remembers, “I have done different things in my career. I’ve done visual effects, worked as a concept artist and even an illustrator. I do a lot of photography and was a photographer for sometime in Boston and New York,” he says adding that his tryst with photography helped him in Kuru art. “A lot of the photographs got translated into drawing. I do a lot of digital manipulation; it gives photographs an abstract, surreal feel.”
Talking about the origin of Kuru, he says, “It all began December 2010. I was watching a documentary on Kuru on TV and met a few aghoris at the Ganga Sagar mela later that year and then I read Svobodha’s Aghora . One thing lead to another and what happened was the chapter names came up one night. I had no idea what were in the chapters and what it was going to be about. I didn’t know it would be called the Kuru chronicles. But obviously these things were at the back of my head subconsciously and seven drawings of abstract faces came out one night in Calcutta. I don’t know who they were but I know it had to fit into the story somewhere.”
It was a friend who ran a festival at Bombay who invited him to display his work there, “People liked what they saw and over time I developed more art work. Over a couple of years a substantial amount of work came out, around 800 pages — four books, 26 chapters.”
The story, which is set mostly in a dystopian version of Calcutta follows the lives of five characters —Dakini, Sen, Kala Hari, Shivali and Devika, “Kuru begins with the five of them and also kind of ends with them,” says Ari adding that Kuru spans a 17-year period. “They are all in their late teens when it begins. Dakini is the protagonist of the Kuru Chronicles and this is more or less her journey and evolution. There is complete disintegration all around her and she basically needs to keep it all together. ”
The book is certainly not for the faint-hearted however, “It is for a mature reader. All the philosophy is from the left hand path. It has a lot of tantric influences and magic. The Rig Veda was another big influence. A lot of dark themes are touched upon — cannibalism, rape, graphic sexuality, violence, modern-day issues like police brutality, attitudes and reflection on capitalism and communism,” says Ari, adding that, “Kuru is totally a work of fiction. It is dedicated to the Gods, the city of Calcutta, to Ma Durga — all of that. It takes from the scriptures and borrows from the Vedas but its modern day tale.”
In addition to the Vedas, “There is an Aghori influence and also influences from the Kalki Purana, Upanishads. I also read a book called Aghora: At the Left Hand of God by Robert E. Svoboda. I went out there; got to know more about the aghoris, spoke to some of them. There is also a lot of modern influence — varies from Pink Floyd to Michael Haneke to Lars von Trier and Takashi Miike, Japanese anime, heavy metal music,” he says.
The book, which is self-published, is slated to be released at the New York comicon later this year and Ari hopes to translate it into different languages and also attempt a psychedelic coloured Japanese version, “I have travelled to festivals all over the country with my art. I must say, people have been very supportive.”
He has recently come out with the Kuru circus — a haunting, ethereal track that seeks to explore the sound scape of the Kuru Chronicles and is also looking at a cinematic translation of Kuru.
It certainly seems that for Ari, there is no looking back. “Working on this project has over times changed my own ideas and Kuru is at some level definitely an expression of my own spiritual leanings. I am not the same person who I was when I started the book.”