June 26, 2016

Of Nature's Stories, Land Art, and Morning Altars

The first time I chanced upon the idea of nature/land/earth art was when I glimpsed sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist, Andy Goldsworthy's work in The Clothes Horse's blog. I was simply enchanted by the notion of abstracting stunning site-specific art from natural surroundings, putting together fallen leaves, branches, twigs, flowers, seeds, and fruit, rocks, pebbles, and feathers into art that entirely and literally emerges from and connects to the earth, seamlessly integrating itself into the environment.  I have been lately been pinning a ton of land art on my Pinterest and have discovered examples which left me breathless and marvelling at the artists' ingenuity and creativity, such as swirling twig waters around a boulder, stone paths in forests, and stone sculptures silhouetted against the sky. Here's a gorgeous Andy Goldsworthy in which he arranges numerous stones in graduated shades of gray to form an existential black hole of sorts in the vast universe that is nature.

After seeing scores and scores of incredible land art works, I wondered if I too could create miniature examples myself; a little bit of researching led me to realise that I had been partially doing it with the fallen flowers, seeds, seed-pods, and fruit I found during my morning walks. Having photographed the trees and plants, I found myself engaging with the gifts that they left for the earth - and for us to discover. I sometimes arranged what I found in a simple pattern or grid format, displaying the diversity of what I had found; it reflected both the species growing in my immediate environment as being season-specific, such as summer displaying a great deal of gulmohur and laburnum, for example. This earth art below below depicts the various stages of a gulmohur bloom that I found in one of my favorite neighborhood parks: bud, budding, blooming, bloom, and flower itself.

Yesterday, after posting a picture of my walk finds: a peepal tree leaf, bougainvillea, gulmohur petals, and a branch of lime green neem fruit on Instagram, Day Schildkret of Morning Altars liked it and which fortuitously led me to explore more of his work. I was intrigued by what he is doing: creating gorgeous, intricate morning altars, foraging from his surroundings to create the most exquisitely detailed works. It celebrates the ephemeral and the deeply rooted, nature with all of its bountiful glories and its cycles of death, rebirth, and growth. Here's one of his morning altars dedicated to spring below:

Inspired by his morning altars, I decided to create one of my own today morning. In the park, it was quiet except for the birds twittering and the sound of plum yellow neem fruit plopping on the ground; this was the background to which I created my first altar wrought from bougainvillea, laburnum, and gulmohur flowers and champak and bougainvilleas leaves. It celebrates the joy these nature's morning colors gives me and to brighten my day ahead, the little joys that I derive from these nature gifts and compensating for potential challenges and disappointments that may lie ahead in the day. Of course, I do wonder what will become of them once I leave...will nature find a way to make its own unique installation out of them?

I enjoyed the process so much that I ended up creating two more earth art works later today from found champak flowers, leaves, and neem fruit:

This activity gives me much peace as well as making me aware of the healing, restorative, and creative powers of nature; I find myself contemplating and appreciating nature's diverse manifestations much more closely. In this age, when we are battling climate change, habitat destruction, species' extinction, and many other depressing stories of environmental degradation, it powerfully drives home the message that we can no longer take nature and stories for granted for it may potentially disappear one day; let us hear its stories and more importantly, strive to conserve and preserve them.

Have you ever made impermanent art? I would love to hear!

June 22, 2016

Friday Poetry: My Yellow Is Your Green

My yellow is your green,
my room your house.
And my mind,
my mind is a palace
whose inhabitants
have long deserted it,
refusing to return.
And only memories haunt the rooms,
Sunlight a distant dream away.

Written in response to Farideh Lashai's oil-painting, Circa 1960s; seen in Harper Bazaar Art Arabia's edition


When I was younger, I constantly used to write poems inspired by paintings or photographs or any other source of visual inspiration; I wrote about Japanese pagodas after having glimpsed them in a calendar hanging in my uncle's home or a poem called Chimera in response to a painting I had seen in a magazine. To see and to write were almost synonymous for me and it most strongly manifested in my poetry. Once I stopped writing poetry, I began to manufacture images instead and stopped writing in response to visual stimuli. However, thanks to Instagram, I began writing in response to my own images and it soon spilled over into my poetry. Hope to have more of these art-poetry juxtapositions over here!

June 21, 2016

Of A Collaboration: Rose Gold Skies, Jacaranda Trees, and Dreams - Part 1

I have always loved the idea of collaborations: multitude of ideas mashing and meshing together, divergent skills and perspectives merging into a hugely textured confluence. Even though I don't know that much about Hindustani classical music, what I am familiar with is the notion of jugalbandi. I had always sought to perform an artistic jugalbandi of my own, what with my writing and someone's art. I was curious to see how someone would respond to my work and vice versa and what new doors of thought and looking would the jugal-bandi open into my work and hopefully, their own too.

When I initially started following Vidya Gopal's Instagram account, she was @spink_bottle for me for the longest time; however, we soon began exchanging comments, notes on IG, and emails, seguing into food for thought conversations about creativity, productivity, what we were reading, and whatnot and - it all recently and happily reached a 'shall we collaborate?' moment.

But first, a word about Vidya's truly beautiful water-color and ink illustrations; if you cast even a mere glimpse, you will find yourself swimming through thoughtful, whimsical, colorful painting studies about flowering fuchsia bougainvilleas, dreaming, eccentric women, budding Tendulkars, coffee drinkers in a cafe, gulmohar petals migrating from hand to paper and so much more. These paintings collectively could form a lovely painting novel of sorts, as we encounter a brilliant school of characters and their environments, becoming familiar and fond of their quirks and foibles, all expressed through the medium of illustration. For so long, I must confess that visual art had been purely about the dramatics and technique of aesthetics for me; however, Vidya's story paintings have compelled me to much more strongly consider the sheer story-telling element as well.

Our collaboration therefore resulted in us responding to each other's work through our respective modes of expression. This is the first part of our collaboration and Vidya chose to depict a jacaranda tree I had photographed few months ago silhouetted against a rose gold sunset sky, interpreting both the photograph and the text which I wrote to accompany it. I will leave for you to think what you will of this superlative work of hers below; as for me, it simply made me very happy to look at a painting which gorgeously captured in essence both the sky and the jacaranda tree as well as the addition of the dreaming, langurous girl (me?!), which so powerfully marries my words and image. 

 My image and words

I dreamt of a jacaranda tee last night; it was blooming in a planet galaxies away, in a world where the color of the night was the palest, softest rose-gold. I stood on my tip-toes to touch the velvety mauve blooms but before I could do it, the dream evanescenced and I was left with nothing but the memory of a sky and purple on my finger-tips. 

Vidya's response

Thank you so so much, Vidya and in the meantime, here's hoping that I will do justice to your lovely paintings!

Watch this space for the second part of our collaboration:)

June 17, 2016

Mandatory 'Where has the year gone by' musings + glimpses into my published writing

Where has this year gone by? Seriously, I had just started to become familiar with 2016, its quirks, its flavors, its textures and yet, before I knew it, it was inching towards its middle. And I too have been away from here more than a month: visited Oman in the interim, picked a ton of mogras, ate snacks which I specifically associate with home and communed with the sea, desert, and the mountains before returning to hot, humid, green Delhi with barely a bloom in sight. However, the good news is that the monsoon is due on June 29th so I am looking forward to the rain. I was too unwell last year to really notice either the terrible yearning for the rain or the rain itself but this year, if El Nina doesn't insist on having her way, I am anticipating sitting at my window and watching the water gush down from the heavens and sluice away the inertia, lethargy, and the omnipresent 'this is the hottest summer ever'. Of course, rain will also gift us the return of mutant, giant mosquitoes, more mugginess, and gray rivers flowing down the street but we won't think of that now!

My weather report over, I just wanted to give brief glimpses into the writing that I have published lately; I am veering towards the personal memoir (especially relating to nature), the surreal (the mannequins), and nostalgia, such as these musings about Muttrah. I would like to continue to do a wide range of textured work this year, migrating from one genre to another, as that a) that keeps me much more engaged and b) it definitely results in much more lively writing. Or so I think.

I read in the newspaper the other day that our neighborhood is the greenest one in New Delhi, and I must agree as I observe the sheer wealth of the flora surrounding me. There is a massive peepal tree behind my house, which simultaneously functions as a pop-up shrine; seen from my study window, the first tree to bloom during spring, the appearance of the silk cotton tree’s fat monstrously beautiful crimson or orange flowers herald winter’s end. The gulmohar tree’s bare branches which had otherwise sported earrings of long chocolate brown seed pods (incidentally, they also make excellent rattles) are currently ablaze with crimson blooms.

 If you stroll through adjoining by-lanes, you will encounter baby green mango-laden trees, creamy white neem bloom, laburnum dripping with chandeliers of gloriously yellow flowers, and a garden earlier violently violet with blooming jacaranda trees. Even though trees may send away bits of themselves to the world through their fallen leaves, flowers, and seeds, they are ultimately rooted to where they are, their one and only home. 

Read the full piece here

Arabic, Indian or cross-culture – one question remains about these shops, their clothing wares and the mannequins who showcase them. Who is the consumer? Western tourists and visitors? Arabic-speaking customers? Omanis? Emiratis? Local Indian immigrants? The mannequins, coloured as they are in an unmistakably fair skin colour, perhaps tries to address them all. What the mannequins’ appearance nonetheless communicate to us is how Western looks/aesthetics and bodies are perceived as the norm across the world, even in non-Western countries, where they are costumed in local clothing. Or perhaps, they are arguably protean creatures, changing character depending upon who perceives them.

Read the full piece here 

It is a space where local and expatriate communities' lives and paths have intersected for years. As you cross a glut of tailoring shops, briefly pausing at one, Arjun of Bangladesh reveals that he has been living here for for twenty eight years. The hunger-making smell of frying pakoras and freshly baked bread imbues the air as vividly as sound. Peeking inside a non-descript looking bakery, Mohammed and Aslam vigorously pound dough before rolling out and baking bread in a tandoor. “Our shop is 38 years old. Omanis, Indian, Pakistanis, and Arabs all buy bread from us; in fact, people from as far as Sohar and Barka come to buy it,” Mohammed says. 
Yet, walking through the gullies, you can still content yourself thinking that you are still experiencing one of the multiple cities that constitute Muscat.

Read the full piece here