Echoes of the past and the present

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Echoes of the past and the present

Tuesday, 31 December 2019 | Uma Nair

Artist Seema Kohli brings yoginis alive amid the greens of Sunder Nursery, says Uma Nair

The Sunder Nursery has brought alive the 64 sandstone yoginis and larger-than-life sculptures by artist and performer Seema Kohli.

Lotus pond as site

Chief architect and CEO of the Agha Khan Trust for Culture, Ratish Nanda, picked out the lotus pond as the right site for the yoginis to rest at. With one stroke, the became the confluence of cultures and thereby spoke to us about the essence of a pure spirit.

The Trust has been rehabilitating existing parks and creating new spaces for over 20 years with the objective of demonstrating that these green spaces can be catalysts for positive economic, social and cultural change. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) focusses on the physical, social, cultural and economic revitalisation of communities in the developing world.

64 sandstone yoginis

The landscape design of the Sunder Nursery has become a plush stage for Kohli’s sculptures. When you look at them under the tree and then see the yoginis, you know that the amalgamation of art and landscape aims to enhance the historic character. It provides a connection with a truly urban scale as it derives inspiration from the traditional Indian concept of congruency between nature, garden and utility, coupled with environmental conservation.

Kohli has been working with antiquity for the past 15 years. She began creating the yoginis first as zinc plates and then translated them into sandstone sculptures with the help of artisans. The temples of the chausath (64) yoginis, are strewn across the heart of India, in Madhya Pradesh and Odisha. In more ways than one, it is the enigmatic aura that keeps us glued to the imagery as we think of the feminine power in a world that has turned a blind eye to the protection of women and abused the feminine body for its own lust.

From the earth

The Tree of Life sculpture and other ones in bronze and wood are a heady mix of haute history and the power of yogic stances. The placement of the sculptures under the salient tree speaks of the age of regalia. Perhaps in terms of language and grammar, the idea of creating a sculptural park of a precious architectural heritage becomes important in the unveiling of a new trend.

The bronze and the large wooden sculptures echo the pulse of the past and the present. We think of the eternal power of the human mind and hands, the skills of building with the elements of the earth and re-energising the traditions of passing on the knowledge of restoration methods with appropriate technologies and materials. Conservation of ideas spring forth when you see the balance and harmony of the feminine yogic sculptures sitting in peace and utter calm. You also think of the zenith in the dictionary of building traditions, techniques and human heritage.

An artful oasis

Over the years, Kohli has worked on the philosophy and the wisdom of the Hiranyagarbha/The Golden Womb, Tree of Life and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. This show is an extension of research in the art of illustrative patterns. The sculptures blend well into the expanse of greenery where earlier there was dust and rubble. Offering a contemporary stage to a design inspired by historic Indian myth and sacred literature becomes an important statement in the signal for art events in modern moorings of Delhi. The Sunder Nursery gardens enhance the arrival point on the edge of the lotus pond. The glimpse of the sculptures becomes a testimony to the power and poetry that can be brought alive in a garden as a sculpture court.

Feminine figures

“The translation of an ancient form, specially feminine, in terms of the goddesses and figures of the past makes art more universal and accessible,” states Kohli.

As an artist, Kohli is both engrossed and deeply driven by an instinct. Her sculptures  embody the compassion of many avatars of existence. This exhibition also tells Delhi that we have one more space to exhibit and sculptures will get a new lease of life at the Sunder Nursery.

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