A delight for the senses

Interpreting fire: Work of Rita Jhunjhunwal

Interpreting fire: Work of Rita Jhunjhunwal  


In Shunya – A Journey”, artist Rita Jhunjhunwala and photographer Shreekant Somany collaborated to create a tapestry of the five elements through paintings and photographs

Spirituality in Indian arts has been a common theme for centuries. But to string it seamlessly across different mediums requires an eye for detail. At a recent exhibition titled “Shunya – A Journey”, artist Rita Jhunjhunwala and photographer Shreekant Somany collaborated to create a tapestry of the five elements or panchatattvas through paintings and photographs. The show included more than 60 works showcasing Jhunjhunwala’s mixed media works on paper inspired by Benaras and Somany’s photographs shot in across the Himalayas, including Kazakhstan, Ladakh, Spiti and Kashmir.

Says Jhunjhunwala, “What keeps me going back to Benares is the vibrancy, the energy, the visuals; these things attracted me initially. Over time, I have also gotten used to it. But every time there is a new aspect. I see more depth and spirituality behind it, which is why we have called it Shunya. It is the merging of five elements, which composes the entire world. I have also matured, I could see the ethereal beauty of it, rather than mere physical.”

For her paintings, Jhunjhunwala used different kinds of paper – handmade, acrylic, butter and even newspaper along with acrylic colours, watercolours, charcoal. “Even for a tourist, the city is a delight for the senses. And as an artist, I have never ceased to be amazed at how it makes me think about the cycle of birth and death every time. The philosophy of Benaras appeals to me because it compels me to think of us as part of the much bigger cosmos and how minuscule we are in its comparison,” she adds. Her painting called “Water” is a beautiful depiction of the Ganges on the ghats of Benares, with pilgrims praying alongside. The painting was displayed next to Shreekant Somany’s take on water, captured on the shores on Mansarovar Lake.

Shreekant Somany’s work

Shreekant Somany’s work  

Shreekant Somany, primarily an industrialist, has been obsessed with the mountains from early on. “I have trekked in various places, gone up to 19000ft. The mountains are a part of nature which make you realise where you stand. Unless you are able to relate to yourself as a part of that nature, you can never relate to your self,” says Somany.

The photograph titled “Air” caught everyone’s eye. It turns out, on the way from Darchen to Ali in Tibet, Somany saw the majestic peak through the eye of a brewing storm. “It was a phenomenon worth stopping for and capturing,” says Somany. Jhunjhunwala depicts the same in her painting through “a sky brimming with the chatter of seagulls hovering around crowded boats and the floating scent of fresh marigolds and jasmines.” Similarly, the photograph titled Fire was shot on a winter morning flight to Leh. It depicted the hues of dawn, with the sun peeping from behind Nanda Devi. “Fire”, for Jhunjhunwala, is depicted through the consecrated flames of the huge oil lamps that circle around the priests in a holy dance amidst ringing of bells and chanting of mantras.

The theme of the five elements was both conscious and unconscious. “It would have been very boring to just put the pictures next to the paintings. But these pictures were depicting something and to my mind it came, why not elements, which was instantly agreed upon. Then, I started collecting my round pictures and matching them with the straight ones, to see how we could depict the elements. The biggest challenge was to find exact photographs that would depict the elements. Fire and water are easy. How do you depict ether and air? It was sheer luck,” adds Somany.

Another interesting display was “Weathered Wisdom” that showcased two sets of portrait photographs and their replicas in painting, of elderly people from Kohima. “I have always found that people from the mountains have wisdom engraved on their faces. They have weathered the storm of life. None of the people even knew I was taking their pictures. They are absolutely candid,” says Somany. To which, Jhunjhunwala adds, “I have tried to recreate the photographs but show their experiences through my paintings. There is wisdom but they are not bitter about it.”

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 8:47:17 PM |

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