Tag Archives: sculpture

The Wind In My Face: Raj Shahani

What happens when you take a businessman with a keen interest in photography and put him in an artist’s studio? Raj Shahani’s career and creative force is proof that when you live life with a passion, creativity unfurls and takes you soaring upon its wings.

The New York based businessman with a successful career in the finance industry had always nurtured a creative side. Born in Mumbai, to Sindhi parents who held education and stability in high esteem, Raj was raised with a firm belief that a career must be a means to financial security. His early attempts at art were considered a distraction from his studies. He does not remember being exposed to much art, except for one instance when he saw the famed sculptor Auguste Rodin’s work on display. This was a moment he took with him as his life coursed through various career paths onwards to New York. 

Having made a decision to retire upon turning 50, he decided to pursue all the things that inspired him creatively. Photography had remained with him throughout his career mostly as a keen hobby. Now free to explore other avenues, he took a sculpting workshop at the Art Students League in New York. And that was the beginning of a new love affair. This new found passion culminated in his first solo exhibit at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai in November 2019, featuring dancers captured in graceful motion through the medium of clay, bronze and fiberglass. He has also recently unveiled a site-specific, contemporary installation titled ‘Jayanti’ in Mcleodgunj, a small village outside Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh – home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama

India Currents caught up with Raj Shahani in Mumbai as he worked on several private commissions. 

IC:    We live in a world where specialization in a particular field of study carries weight – status – respect – identity.  This begs the question – why & how did you choose to leave behind your successful career and change lanes so to speak? 

R.S:   My parents migrated from Pakistan and went through a lot as they made their life in India. So fiscal responsibility and being able to support your family with what you earned means everything to them. As a boy I loved to paint and draw. But since Art was not considered a viable option, my parents and my school discouraged me from my attempts to pursue it. I am a parent now, and I understand where they were coming from!

I ended up majoring in Chemistry and then went on to other things. More and more I was left with a feeling that I wanted to retire at the age of 50. But after that what? All I knew was that I wanted to do something which was not dictated by others. I had never envisioned making art, and only pursued photography as a hobby. Until I stumbled upon sculpting. It became an obsession!

IC:   Did you see yourself working towards a goal while you were exploring sculpting?

R.S:  There was no plan. I just lost myself in the studios sculpting for hours every day! The human form came easily to me, maybe because I have taken so many pictures of people. The form is ingrained in my head and I could translate it into clay. But the results were only for me. I did not intend to show it publicly. Friends urged me to show my work and I remember thinking “what a crazy idea”

IC:   I ask this question of all artists. How difficult was the idea of monetizing your work?

R.S:   I haven’t accepted it as yet! While curating my work at the Jehangir Art Gallery, I wanted to keep all of it – could not let go! Even though I understand money and finance, it is very different when it comes to putting a dollar value to what I create. I cannot believe the response to my work!  This is still something I am learning to deal with.

IC:   Your show at Jehangir Art Gallery titled ‘Caesura/Continuum’ is a celebratory series of the human form captured in the course of executing ballet movements. The work is crisp, highly detailed, and has a wonderful, lyrical tension in some of the pieces. Tell us about your journey with this series.R.S:   I don’t see my sculptures ‘ballet dancers’ – I know that the dance form is ballet, but I have tried to go beyond it. Forms and people are very important. It is more about the emotion, the story behind that moment. The captured moment is just part of that overall story. In my head, the shapes have feelings. The movement, the tension, the emotion on their faces tell a lot more than the dance form itself. Ballet is the medium used to tell that story! It is a very spiritual experience although not in a godly sense. It is meant to transport you into that story – into that world, as a viewer.

IC:   How much of your work is colored by that exhibition of Rodin’s work you attended as a boy?

R.S:   As a kid growing up in Mumbai, we didn’t have much exposure to art or sculpture. At that time I remember going to an exhibition featuring Rodin’s work. I had never seen work on that scale in my life! So it made a definite impact. Having never had formal art training, that first exposure stayed with me. 

IC:   Tell us about your recent work, ‘Jayanti’, the 17 foot site-specific permanent installation situated Mcleodganj, Himachal Pradesh. Both the sculpture and the location – a place famed for its Buddhist spirituality – are intriguing.

R.S:  I was at the Hyatt Regency Resort in Dharamshala talking to the architects because they were interested in showcasing a series of photographs I had taken of Buddhist monks. The beauty of the locale inspired me to visualize ‘Jayanti’ – which is not a creation, but an energy. It has always existed in that place. I just let my inspiration reflect that energy, giving back and enhancing what was already present. It is like holding a mirror to what exists.

IC:   Your use of the word ‘mirror’ pretty much says it all! ‘Jayanti’ is highly reflective in the choice of materials you have used. It seems almost otherworldly, somehow placed in that area amidst the lushness of nature. How do you go from sculpting the human body in its lyrical and exquisite complexity to creating something like ‘Jayanti’? 

R.S:  Like I said before, ‘Jayanti’ has always existed as Energy in that place. She is the monolithic, Mother Goddess of Dharamshala who has been worshipped for all time. Jayanti is in the trees, the flowers, the beauty of the place itself. The sculpture is made of mirror-polished steel. It is multi-faceted, like a precious gem. You are meant to drive or walk around the installation. The form reflects different things as you drive around it, including the viewers themselves. So for me, it is more of a feeling, an experience. And a conceptual homage to Dharamshala, home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. 

It also carries a Sanskrit shloka inscribed on its reflective facets – a tribute to the Goddess Jayanti. 

IC:  What next? Which aspect of life & creativity do you intend to explore?

R.S:  I am currently working on commissions and enjoying that process. Inspiration comes from everyday things that make me happy. I don’t have the constraints of being dictated to by the world around me, which is a blessing! So, for now, I just want to create. There is a hunger within me which lets me vent out my creativity in new and exciting ways. 

It is a little like jumping off a bridge and feeling the wind in my face… while knowing that I will hit the water eventually! In the meantime, it is all about the present moment! All about the NOW! And about experiencing the wind in my face! 

The installation ‘Jayanti’ is part of Hyatt Regency, Mcleodgunj’s permanent collection, paying tribute and homage to the ethos that is part of its fame.

India Currents wishes Raj Shahani many more travels along uncharted paths, drinking from the well of creativity.

Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. Her new avatar requires creative juggling with the pen and the brush.

Harmonious blend of Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto strains in Japan

The 900 year old Sanjusangen-do Zen temple in Kyoto

Sanjusangen-do (Built in 1164 CE and reconstructed in 1266 after a fire broke out) is a Buddhist temple in Kyoto that’s guarded by around 1000- Armed Human sized statues of Kannon, the Japanese Goddess of compassion. 500 statues sit on either side of the main Deity of Sahasrabhuja-Arya-Avalokiteśvara.

The 1000 armed Kannons

The 1000 life size Kannons carved from wood, have 28 guardian deities in front, that are larger in size. These Guardian deities are of Indian origin and primarily Hindu Gods.

In ancient Japanese Buddhism, Hindu Deities are revered and given their place of respect in the Buddhist realm of deities. The Hindu deities are considered guardian Deities of the Buddhist concept of the ‘Clear Mind Buddha’, which according to them is the Buddha that is of prime importance. The physical Buddha is seen as holy and revered, but he is also seen as an example of human bondage and suffering in samsara. Like a normal human Buddha had to overcome his delusions and finally had to shed the body. The ‘Clear Mind Buddha’ who is pristine and pure in thought (Nirgun as the Hindus say) however, is the primordial state without beginning or end and is the state which all humans must aspire to achieve to get salvation from rebirth. One has to not get obsessed with the physical Buddha, as he is external to you, while the ‘Clear Mind Buddha’ is the object of possible achievement for all humans through meditation and practice of dharma. This realization which arises from within is considered more important than bondage to external objects, however revered or holy they are.

This ‘Clear Mind Buddha’ as the silent observer, is similar to the concept of the ‘Nirgun Bhraman or Paramatma’ in Hinduism, with all other Gods/Goddesses being considered its emanations with specific energies, which is very similar to the Shinto concepts of Kami. The beautiful Harmony with which the ancient Japanese monks have managed to fit all gods and deities from the parent stream of Hinduism into its brilliant offshoot Buddhism is remarkable. It is a brilliant testimony to their abilities and vast intelligence to bring harmony, accommodation, respect and deep understanding to the evolving spiritual streams, as well as merger of existing streams. After all there is only one truth and no one has the monopoly on it. This is something the ancient Japanese masters understood so well.

An achievement, one has to bow down to in deep respect.

Shintoism the original indigenous religion of Japan, Shinto teaches that everything in nature consists of a spiritual essence, or a spirit called a Kami. The Kami resides in all things. But there are certain designated places where the Kami interfaces more intensely with people. There are 8 million kami (not literally, but just a representation of many Kami that exist). The primary Kami is Amaterasu or the Goddess of the sun. Hence Japan is called the land of the rising sun. This is extremely similar to Hinduism where we are considered Suryavanshi (descendents of the sun). In Hinduism, the entire universe is considered an emanation of Paramatma; hence everything in it carries the spirit of the great creator. Lay people get confused that Hinduism has a million deities, and villagers are busy creating one every day. What an outsider does not see is that Hindus consider everything in nature as having a spirit that is derived from that one source to manifest. So having a million deities is the same as having one. Shintoism too is similar to that form and belief system in Hinduism. Ancestors are considered Kami too and just as we worship and follow the system of gotras (descendents of Rishis), they worship their ancestors.

In the next few frames , I shall post pictures of some of the critical Hindu “Guardian Deities “ that have been exhibited in the Great 120 meter hall, which is 900 years old. These Guardian deities stand on either side of the Avalokiteshwara Deity (The Buddhist God of compassion) and in front of the 1000 Kannons. The Hindu deities don’t resemble the Indian versions as there were conceptually transplanted about 900 years ago and are carved based on Japanese interpretations of Indian and Chinese Sutras.

The descriptions are brief and have been copied from the official booklet available at the Sanjusangen-do Centre. It is highly recommended for any visitor to Japan to visit this center and buy this book.

Japanese Name: Naraen Kengo, Sanskrit: Narayana

The original Sanskrit name of this deity is Narayna, also called Vishnu in India, the Hindu God of preservation of all creation. This God/statue is used in many ancient Buddhist temples of Japan at the gates where Narayan keeps his mouth open in conjunction with Vajra Pani (Shiva), who keeps his mouth closed. This according to them symbolizes that the deities swallow all evil and let only virtue pass into the temple through the gates. Another interpretation says they symbolize within lies all the secrets of the universe from beginning to end. The most amazing example of these Deities is at the entrance to the Todai-ji temple at Nara. Amazingly Nara has 7 prime temples (Much like the Tirupathy temple, where the Lord is considered the lord of the seven hills which represent the Adisesha or the serpent of Vishnu with 7 heads that is supposed to hold up creation).

The placement of Narayna (Vishnu) and Vajra Pani (Shiva) in the entrance to symbolize AUM is amazing. A (mouth opens to symbolize beginning of all creation from Brahma, who is born of Vishnu), and M (mouth shuts to symbolize the destroyer and therefore the end of existence) is Shiva, the God of death. The Japanese Buddhist integration with Hinduism is breath taking.

Japanese Name : Raijin the Thunder God, Sanskrit Name : Varuna

This deity has its origin in the God of water Varuna which later transformed into Thunder God as water was always associated with thunder. The iconography of this statue is based on Senju Darani-kyo’ Buddhist Sutra. As per the Rig Veda, Varuna is considered the counterpart of Mitra, Varuna rules the night and Mitra rules during the day.

Japanese Name: Basu senin Sanskrit: Vasu

Vasu in Hindu tradition can be interpreted in many ways. Vasudewa was the father of Krishna. Related to this name is an early Hindu belief system, sometimes called Bhagavatism that was largely formed by the 4th century BC. Vasudeva was worshiped as the supreme Deity in a strongly monotheistic format, where Vasudewa was considered the Supreme Being because he had the attributes of being perfect, eternal and full of grace.

Vasu could also mean God of all the elements in creation which is very similar to Japanese Shintoism wherein they recognize about 8 million Gods of various elements called Kami. Hinduism on the other hand recognizes eight primary elements and all else are its combinations. That is why Vasu is the god of the eight Gods or the various base elements.

Japanese Name: Nanda Ryu-o Sanskrit: Nanda Naga Raja

If the Sanskrit translation were to be applied directly, it would mean The King of the snakes from the Nanda Dewi Mountain (The abode of Lord Shiva). In this carving at some point of time the snakes became dragons through Chinese influence and came to be in Japan, as Buddhism reached Japan via China and Tibet.

Japanese Name: Fujin Sanskrit; Vayu

As introduced in the ancient Indian sacred texts Rig Veda, Vayu is the deity that pulls carriages through the air, defeating armies, bring fame, fortune. The design is completely based on Japanese interpretations of texts from Indian and Chinese sutras.

Japanese Name: Birubakusha Sanskrit: Virupaksha

The Japanese translation means the deity with many eyes and a wider vision. Notice the third eye between the two eyes, and the weapon in the hand is the same as Shiva’s. In Hindu Tradition Virupaksha is a form of Shiva’s and there is indeed a Virupaksha temple in Hampi Karnataka with the same Sanskrit name as in Japan.

Japanese Name: Karura Sanskrit: Garuda

The original Sanskrit name of this deity is Garuda, In ancient India it was believed to be a giant bird that ate cobras and carried the Hindu deity Vishnu on its back. Later on it was adopted in Buddhism as a deity, and was included in the eight guardians of Buddhism. The statue represents a bird headed figure playing a flute while keeping time with the foot.

Japanese Name: Mawara-nyo. Sanskrit: Maha Bala.

Maha Bala in Hindu scriptures translates directly to Durga Dewi, based on whom, many Bala mantras exist. Mawara-Nyo represents the indomitable spirit and the gentle feminine subtle energies of the universe, gentle yet decisive.

Japanese Name: Daibenkudoku-ten Sanskrit: Sridewi

The original name for this deity is Sridewi, also called Laxmi, written in India as Lakshmi. She is born from the sea and is Vishnus (Narayana’s) wife. In Buddhism she is a daughter of the dragon King and Kishimojin (Hariti). As in Hinduism, in Buddhism too, she presides over prosperity

Japanese Name: Taishaku-ten Sanskrit: Indira

According to the ancient Indian writings in the Rig Veda, He is the most significant heroic deity. In Buddhism this deity is supposed to live in Kiken castle As the lord of the realm of Tory ten. He is considered to have helped Buddha in his novitiate years. In Hinduism Indra is the God of the lesser heavens where ordinary mortals reside for limited periods of time in their endless cycles of birth and death.

The very best for the last, This is where the Japanese place Hinduism and Buddhism in perfect equal footing. Literally as parallel similar universes with different tag names.

Japanese Name : Daibon-ten Sanskrit: Maha Brahman

The Highest Hindu god and the creator of the universe is Maha Brahman. Since Maha Brahman was adopted into Japanese Buddhism, it is believed he is a guardian of Buddhism together with the Buddhist Deity Taishaku-ten. They both are equally tasked as partners with running the universe. According to the Japanese legend when Buddha reached self- realization, he was overwhelmed but was hesitant to preach to people. Maha Brahman advised him to start preaching in order to redeem ignorant people and their souls. It is for this reason the Japanese accord Maha Brahman an equal status to the Buddhist diety Taishaku-Ten.

Sanjay Rao is in search of the ultimate truth beyond concepts and notions, in that silence, after 20 years in soulless corporate board rooms. https://twitter.com/#!/sanjayrao1010

Previously published on www.esamskriti.com. Reprinted here with permission.

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Rina Banerjee: Make Me a Summary of the World

May 16–October 6

 

This story was sent to us and Co-organized by San José Museum of Art (SJMA) and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA)

Organized by Lauren Schell Dickens, curator, SJMA and Jodi Throckmorton, curator, PAFA


Rina Banerjee: Make Me a Summary of the World is the first mid-career retrospective of the artist’s work. The exhibition presents almost twenty years of Banerjee’s large-scale installations, sculptures, and paintings—including a re-creation of her work from the 2000 Whitney Biennial; sculptures featured in the 2017 Venice Biennale; and recent work for the Prospect 4 New Orleans biennial.

Rina Banerjee (b. 1963 in Calcutta, India) grew up in London and eventually moved to New York. While the visual culture that she experienced as a child in India greatly influences her aesthetic,  her immigration to the UK and her love of the diverse culture of her current home, New York City, form the core of her practice. Banerjee creates vivid sculptures and installations made from materials sourced throughout the world. She is a voracious gatherer of objects—in a single sculpture one can find African tribal jewelry, colorful feathers, light bulbs, Murano glass, and South Asian antiques in conflict and conversation with one another. These sensuous assemblages reverberate with bright colors and surprising textures present simultaneously as familiar and unfamiliar.

Amidst a progressively factious turn toward nativist politics in the United States, Banerjee relentlessly creates work that reflects the splintered experience of identity, tradition, and culture often prevalent in diasporic communities. Significantly, her career as an artist, beginning in the late 1990s, parallels the expansion of the global art world, the Internet, and the repeated rise and fall of “identity politics” in art.  Though Banerjee is one of the most important artists of the post-colonial Indian diaspora living in the United States, and her work has consistently gained visibility internationally (especially in Asia and Europe), she remains relatively unknown to U.S. museum audiences.

Rina Banerjee: Make Me a Summary of the World focuses on four interdependent themes in Banerjee’s work that coincide with important issues of our time: immigration and identity; the lasting effects of colonialism and its relationship to globalization; feminism; and climate change.

Catalogue

A full-color, ca. 160-page catalogue was published in conjunction with the exhibition and available for purchase at SJMA’s Shop.

Touring schedule

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, October 27, 2018—April 7, 2019

San José Museum of Art, May 17—September 29, 2019

Palm Springs Museum of Art, CA Spring 2020 (TBC)

Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, TN, August 6—October 25, 2020 (TBC)

Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, NC  (TBC)

Learn more about this wonderful exhibition here:  https://sjmusart.org/exhibition/rina-banerjee-make-me-summary-world

This Article was provided to India Currents by the San José Museum of Art