Romancing an enchanted land
'Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.' The Chekov quote, in Vinita Karim's catalogue preface from different exhibitions may persuade one to think that the artist has vouched for the 'particular' and is aware of its safe distance from the 'general', however, in Vinita's realm which she unravels at her recent solo exhibition River Stories, everything is dipped in a romance with the colourful and the royal. The moon, an object of otherworldly passion, and its effect on another form of magical space – imaginary land, both seem to want to stay outside the orbit of the everydayness of objects.
She achieves an otherworldliness by way of a painterly conceit of collating mukarna-like colourful painted forms and extraneous materials such as ornate fabric, or patches of par (border) from saris. Her imagery builds on disparate references – landscape, jewelry inlays and, with obvious allusion to the visual memory of places the artist travelled, with an overriding bias towards Rajasthan, India, which translates into obvious application of vivid colours.
In a vague reminder of Gustav Klimt's paintings where patterns occupy a central visual trope and gold leaf is used to lend grandeur to the painted image, Vinita too endorses a courtly attitude and adopts some features of the techniques used in traditional court paintings in India before the British occupation.
Kishore Sing, who wrote the preface for her catalogue, points at the slow progression of the artist towards a 'busy space', where colour patterns may now be its defining force streaking the expanse of the canvas like layers akin to prehistoric soil formation. He also rightly harps on the fact that her imagery devalues the empirical. The comment, '[w]hether these places are real or imagined is itself hardly important,' corresponds to her actual motive behind each painting which is to forward a dream-like imagery.
Vinita's vocabulary is interspersed with colour-rich patterns which may be interpreted as an echo of the cultural heritage and lifestyle of the traditional people of Rajasthan. The visible markers of their culture serve as her springboard. What has a direct correspondence to her work are the artifacts some tribal peoples make where there are ample application of colourful cloths and design materials such as glass and semi-precious stones. What she does with her references helps lend a unique character to her works – she lays them out in patterns resembling sedimentary soil to make them look like landscapes.
The horizontality of her composition enables an easy viewing – some looking as if an ancient festival scene is being unveiled, as in Singing Water, while some vaguely hinting at nightlife across shorelines where assorted architectural fragments give one a sense of an emerging cityscape, as in Sonar Bangla. The array of similar looking images occasions an immersive experience – central to this experience remains the idea of exoticism. Though it is insignificant whether this is taken as a superfluous veneer, or an essential part of her language, Vinita Karim plumbs the 'exotic' and the 'Royal' with an intention to forward a visual language of beauty and grandeur – a quality which places her at a tangent with contemporary art practices.
The works displayed at Bengal Lounge seem measured in their aesthetic maneuvering. Measured in the sense that, her paintings are carefully worked out images of predetermined concepts and the routes through which she arrives at the end results seem to have been repeatedly traversed. It is the feeling they evoke which rescues the works from looking jaded. Most of the canvases give the impression as if they are imagery appearing in our memory of forgotten kingdoms or enchanted antique places. Some of these constructed topographies – unpeopled as they are – become The King's Horizon, or Golden Grounds – the last being of a composition where the artist reframes the scene by introducing multiple and fragmentary perspectives. The horizontality of the composition is tampered as two areas of reflection on saffron water are introduced as additional forms.
Water, or the reference to river, never appears without the clusters of forms – primarily of architectural origin and are fragmentary in built – invading the otherwise vast open landscape. Rose Moon is a work where the crescent moon appears like a boat on the horizon. Interestingly the architectural references are half-submerged in the water in a vague reminder of a city lost in time.
To round it off, one must home in on the idea of the 'royal' through the introduction of the same landscape-like pattern onto a beast that Vinita calls her personal visual bestiary. Sundarban Royalty is a play on the same grand theme of kingly grandeur. In fact it is 'kingly magnificence' which set the tone of her entire oeuvre – and this is where both her success and failure lies. Success in the sense that she has been able to find her voice in the busy traffic of images in the oversaturated social space of the new millennium, while, on the other hand, her fixation on fineries or bejeweled objects fit for royalty seemed to have enforced upon her one particular way of picture-making.
‘River Stories’ was presented at Bengal Lounge from May 16 to June 6, 2015.
– DEPART DESK
PHOTOS COURTESY: BENGAL ART LOUNGE