The golden Christ

Biblical themes have always been a great pull for artists, which is why we come ever so often upon its interpretations in both performing and visual arts. But the portrayal of the story of Jesus Christ is usually steeped in pathos. It is not so in Madhvi Parekh’s “The Last Supper”, her solo in the Capital after a gap of eight years. Her renditions in an unusual medium (reverse paintings on acrylic), aren’t austere. The Christ is not bereft of colours. And none of her figures bears a sorry pitiful expression. There is a certain playfulness Madhvi imparts to the narrative with her style that clearly carries her village sensibilities and is also influenced by Paul Klee and Miro. “See, only an artist can take such liberties,” says Madhvi showing us around Visual Arts Gallery, the venue of her exhibition.

Her golden coloured Christ is a far cry from the earthy colour palette usually used to paint the figure. Like a child, Madhvi says, she felt compelled to render Christ’s figure in a colour people don’t associate him with. It was on a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem years ago, that the self-taught artist who grew up in a small village, Sanjay in Gujarat, got carried away by the subject. “I saw the Holocaust memorial and I was really moved. I also attended a sound and light show where I heard children’s cries. Then I also saw people crying. The whole thing was very disturbing. And just outside was a portrait of Christ soaked in peace. I didn’t want to paint the brutality but the peace and happiness he brought to people and that’s what you see in my works,” explains the senior artist, who had at one point of time extensively worked on the subject of Durga and Kali.

Not familiar with Christianity, Madhvi didn’t even read the Bible. There’s not much of Christian iconography in her work and whatever little is there is due to her exposure to the churches while travelling the world. The work, in fact, is just like any other work of hers which carries the touch of Indian folk art. At one place, the Christ has been painted with a halo, an integral part of Hindu iconography, and in ‘The Last Supper’ Jesus and his 12 apostles sit dressed in bright colours with curtains in the backdrop. “I didn’t read the Bible. I am familiar with the story. The objective is to paint the essence of the story which I absorbed reading Gandhiji. Then I got familiar with some through my Christian maid. She told me about Martha and Maria and that’s how one of the works came about. When I was painting it, she would come every morning, bow before it and only then start her work.”

The subject also allows her to paint animals, something that she loves. From the work based on Christ’s birth in a stable to other works where she portrays him travelling with animals, they recur in her work along with a few other symbols like the ladder, birds and the sun and the stars. “Nature can never go away from my work because that’s what I grew up amidst.”

But the passage of time has brought in some changes in her work. The vast spaces have shrunk to accommodate more figures. And the colour palette has become even more effervescent. A first for her is the medium of reverse on acrylic sheet though she regularly does reverse paintings on glass. “The biggest challenge of the medium is that the brush slips so it takes time to get control. But I had a fun time executing the works with pencil and marker pen, and if you notice I have tried to achieve a special effect by scraping the surface with my hairpin.”

(“The Last Supper” presented by the Seagull Foundation for the Arts is on at Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, till September 7.)