The critically acclaimed solo exhibition “Earth as Haven” explores the materiality of nature with an immersive installation of handmade forms.
The show is on view in India for the first time, at the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery (Mumbai) in collaboration with the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) and supported by Akar Prakar. Art Radar also talks to the artist.
Retrieving the earth as a refuge for us all
Jayashree Chakravarty’s “Earth as Haven: Under the Canopy of Love” comes to India following a highly successful and critically acclaimed first showing at the prestigious Musée National Des Arts Asiatiques, Guimet, Paris in October 2017, where we saw the artist respond to the circular plan of the Guimet’s Carte Blanche space, with a site-specific and immersive installation. At the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) in Mumbai, the works connect with the physicality of the new location and visitors to “Earth as Haven” encounter large, suspended paper structures and a network of imaginary forms inspired by the minute intricacies of insect dwellings, such as wasp nests and cocoons.
Curated by Roobina Karode, Chief Curator and Director of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, the exhibition’s vast structures absorb and immerse the viewer inviting them into a captivating natural environment. The suspended forms are bare from the outside with a mysterious womb-like entrance and a layered, earthy interior, decorated with detailed natural motifs. The delicate, ribbed armature echoes a more familiar and urban scape – the ubiquitous composition of shanty towns and human dwellings that are scattered over the city of Kolkata, which is where the artist lives and works.
In a series of explorations in materiality, Jayashree Chakravarty plays with a variety of structural forms from the highly geometric to the organic, depicting the delicacy of insect wings on the one hand and the slender ribbed-vaults of Gothic architecture, on the other. The work is constructed with cotton fabric, handmade Nepali lepcha paper, tissue paper, jute and dry leaves, is treated with tea stains and synthetic glue, and embellished with sequins and beads. Hanging slightly above the ground, her installation appears as a slow crawling form and when viewed from afar, the partly visible feet of visitors inside the exoskeleton resemble the multiple legs of a moving creature – giving the installation dynamism and life.
Speaking about the relevance of the show and the artist’s message, Roobina Karode says:
Earth as Haven rhymes with and alludes to heaven, and perhaps to a utopian desire, but the artist here is more significantly immersed in retrieving the earth as a place of refuge and shelter for all visible and invisible forms of life that inhabit its soil, air, water and sunlight and enjoy its fecundity. […] Jayashree’s over-riding concern to restore the fragile core of the earth, still beautiful and fertile, but equally frail and vulnerable, continues to stimulate her artistic pursuits. Contemporary and relevant, her concerns go beyond geographical boundaries, cultural differences and political motives. Through poetic evocations, her soaring handmade forms amplify the pressing need for a sustainable ecology of life and living.
Jayashree Chakravarty (b. 1956) studied at Viswa Bharati in the sprawling natural environs of Santiniketan, a school founded by Rabindranath Tagore and then at the Faculty of Fine Arts at the MS University of Baroda, where she was exposed to an urban, contemporary sensibility. Her visual register, constituted of natural and urban spaces, caught in phases of disparity and confrontation. She was influenced by Indian artists from the preceding generation, including Ganesh Pyne, Somnath Hore and K.G. Subramanyan, whose breadth of vision opened up the innumerable possibilities of art-making for successive generations. She was also an artist in residence at Aix en Provence from 1993-95, where she was influenced in the formative years of her practice by the French movement Supports/Surfaces, especially by Claude Viallat.
The artist has had several exhibitions with Gallery Akar Prakar, having shown last year at Musée Des Art Asiatique (Nice) in collaboration with KNMA (New Delhi), the Embassy of India in France and ICCR. In 2016, a solo show at Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi, was followed by “Unfolding Kuchinan” presented by Akar Prakar, Kolkata. Her works were also showcased in “Continuing Traditions” at Musee Toile de Jouy, France in collaboration with Akar Prakar in 2015. Chakravarty has shown at various exhibitions in India and abroad including Aicon Gallery, Singapore Art Museum, Gallery Chemould Prescott Road, Vadehra Art Gallery, Jehangir Art Gallery, CIMA, NGMA (Mumbai), The Art Centre, Akar Prakar and Religare Art, among others. The artist lives and works in Kolkata, India.
Art Radar speaks with the artist about the genesis of the show.
Nature appears to be at the heart of your practice, whether it is using motifs from the natural world or whether it is a commentary on environmental degradation or a clarion call for sustainability. To what do you attribute this oneness that you feel with it?
I have always felt connected to nature from my childhood, I love to be in natural surroundings and in nature, I am drawn to it. Where I grew up in Tripura I was very close to nature and when I first moved to Salt Lake City in 1983, there used to be tall grass, snakes and snails. When I was a child in Tripura there was sky, jungle and trees everywhere, and I felt one with it. I witnessed the landscape change, and the transformation into buildings, concrete structures, pavements. This new environment was so foreign that it made me feel claustrophobic and oppressed. I became interested in working with this idea and wanted to express my feelings towards this change, my longing for the natural haven that used to exist there, my tiredness in the new concrete world. In a way, I was also commenting on the global change where we interfere and alter our natural environment and don’t allow nature in, in fact we cease to even see it.
You have often said that your paintings are autobiographical. How have the memories of a life spent in Santiniketan, Baroda, Kolkata and parts of France translated visually into your work?
There was an openness in Santiniketan, sky and plants, their beauty, contrasts and transparency and it definitely comes into my work. I felt a freedom there. We also studied miniature painting and that language, the detail and intricacy also somehow translates into the work and is imbued into it.
In France I became interested in large scale projects and started to make bigger pieces which had more candour and openness, I also started to work with paper and scrolls, which have a different expression to paint, as they are more tactile, flexible and malleable.
Could you share with Art Radar readers the origins of the diverse inspirations and influences that are evident in your work – from your strong Santiniketan roots that draw from nature and draughtsmanship to French Impressionism and Byzantine mosaic design?
I am not sure that my experiences in the South of France are directly connected, though the techniques I learnt in miniature painting in Santiniketan as well as the process of making paper, tempera and my interest in these mediums evolved there. It is very much in me and is a continuous process.
What was the genesis of “Earth as Haven”, and how did you go about translating your creative intent and communicating your message on the impact of urbanisation through the project?
The installation depicts an alternate world, a living breathing creature filled with insects taking refuge, trees plants, texture and materiality. It expresses that world of my childhood, and it is a living thing, of that childhood – drawn to nature and in the surroundings of nature
You are making a statement not only with the imagery and motifs that you use, but also with your choice of paper and materials. As an environmentally-conscious artist how has it changed your approach to materiality and the type of medium that you use?
As mentioned these materials have a tactile, earthy quality and speak more of the earth and nature, they are responsive to their space and can mould into it. This is very much like nature and the way it emerges and grows into a space.
In an increasingly digitised world, where art is also succumbing to technology, do you feel it is the immersive nature of your installation that will have the desired impact on visitors – by surrounding them and absorbing them into the haven that you have created?
We all face this disconnection with nature, our eyes are stuck and we only see the world we make. We seem to have lost our sensitivity, we do not see nature’s structures. We are away from them and we are all reacting to our lack of connection with it. It makes us anxious, claustrophobic and we lack the sense of peace which being in nature gives us.
“Earth as Haven” was first displayed at the Musée National Des Arts Asiatiques, Guimet, Paris last year and was a site-specific installation that responded to the circular plan of that space. How have you adapted it to suit the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery at CSMVS?
It is a very interesting question. I do think it possesses the same energy. Roobina Karode curated both shows and I think that she envisioned it at CSMVS and it worked there. At Guimet, I thought of it as an insect resting, breathing. I didn’t know what it would be like in the Jehangir space but Roobina could see it. The form and structure of the piece and the material itself tends to work in different spaces and moulds into it – it reflects the accommodation that nature itself has and its relative flexibility, it always finds a way to grow and bleed into our world – even when we try and obscure it.
As we approach the end of the year, what can Art Radar readers look forward to from your studio in 2019?
At the moment I am trying to get back to oil painting, although I am also making separate paper pieces based around trees and the language of nature. I will be having another exhibition soon in New Delhi at Akar Prakar and am also working on a large scale installation, which is yet to realise and I am now creating it.
“Earth as Haven: Under the Canopy of Love” by Jayashree Chakravarty is on view from 11 September to 11 November 2018 at Jehangir Nicholson Gallery, 2nd Floor, East Wing, CSMVS Mumbai 400023, India.
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