An absence left behind

Kota Neelima relooks at the Ayodhya dispute through the prism of art

January 11, 2017 11:36 pm | Updated 11:36 pm IST



E very time Kota Neelima went to Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh as a journalist to cover the long-standing dispute, she was drawn towards the absence this piece of land commanded. Devoid of any structure, the plot has been a witness to several conflicts where different religious groups have claimed their right over it. And it was in this intangible presence, the Delhi-based artist-writer undertook a spiritual sojourn to question the relevance of structures as religious institutions, and the need to breaking away from them. “We always believe that something is sacred only when it has a structure to it. But my question is what about the space around it? What happens when you cross the structure? Does it become less holy than other places?” asks Neelima.

“And as is in the case of Ayodhya, there is an absence of a place of worship. So does that still make it sacred? Is the significance endowed to a place only when there is a structure?” she adds.

These questions became the starting point of an enquiry which started taking shape and form on her canvas only a year ago. And now this mediation has culminated in an exhibition titled “Remains of Ayodhya Places of Worship” which is being displayed at Galerie Romain Rolland, Alliance Francaise de Delhi till January 16.

“Whenever I went there for reporting, I always felt that there was something that I couldn’t write in my reports. It has a certain kind of absence which makes it unique. And this absence is spiritual in nature. It secularises the place,” she says, adding that she had visited Ayodhya three years ago.

“All these years I have been thinking how I can represent the struggle and the conflict. And I have come to believe that there is an inherent lack of articulation in the way we look at it. There has been peace, but it has always been fragile and intermittent,” she adds.

Unlike her previous exhibitions, Neelima has chosen smaller canvases to articulate her thoughts. This was a conscious decision, she says, pointing at the need to be focused and engage deeper with the idea.

However, what has remained constant in her works is the use of different elements of nature – trees, flowers, the moon and the sky – recurring motifs of her oeuvre. “Any space is usually filled with natural things like trees and flowers, and in many ways, they become a symbol of worship. And if one considers this aspect then no place of worship is empty. The point that I am trying to make is that anyone we worship is free.”

“While some of my paintings are trying to arrive at these questions, some answering them,” adds the author of “Tirupati A Guide to Life”.

On the surface, these 23 myriad compositions look serene, but a closer look and a reading of the poetic description of each work underline the muted tension Ayodhya has been subjected to for centuries. For instance, in “Once Again”, oil on canvas composition, only trunks of trees in the hues of blue and green are juxtaposed against a mustard coloured background. Not even closely related to the site of Ayodhya, it is its lyrical verses that prompt the viewer to relook and contemplate. It reads, “Once again, it was clear, no politics, no religion, no rules, no votes, no honest notes, no promises of salvation, no dreams of freedom, came free.”

Neelima studied painting techniques at the Arpana Caur’s Academy of Fine Arts and Literature and presented her first solo exhibition “First Cause” in 2012.

“I used to sketch and draw regularly, but because of hectic work schedule, I wasn’t able to finish my paintings. So, when I decided to take a break from work and go back to basics by reading and learning, and researching on farmers in Vidarbha, I realised that a lot of information I had was getting left out. So while I was writing a book or an article, I still had many facts, and they were not being communicated,” she recalls.

This was when she decided to go back to painting and use it as a channel to express what wasn’t finding the way through words and letters.

“I paint because language is not enough. Then you will ask me if the painting is enough… no it isn’t. Neither of them is replaceable with other. This is why, I am happy to do both,” she adds.

Top News Today


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.