I have an instinct towards this project that comes out of deep memory and association. It's a project that brings together, unasked, but quite perfectly, a number of different strands of interest and experience. A relationship with the colours, art, people, and land of India, which goes back thirty three years. An interest in ideas and in the philosophical, but the long-standing impossibility of finding a home in 'Western' politics, philosophy or art. A delight in writing and words as a means of exploring ideas. A surfeit of academic words relating to the social sciences, and an exhaustion with the disembodied theoretical. A craving for the aesthetic; for the felt and experienced rather than than the conceptual. An interest in movement and the body as an antidote to these things.
After over two years of struggling to return to my painting roots, the unexpected appearance of the Indian dancing human/godly form in my work was a big surprise. For the last couple of months I've been trying to follow this without asking too many questions. I've always been aware, though, that this dancing Indian image (as understood both within Indian textual traditions and within the lives and practices of living, earthly people) was some kind of still point which in brought together many things which are traditionally seen as separate in my own culture. The conceptual versus the aesthetic, for example, or bodily sensuality versus rarified philosophies. Most interestingly of all, for me, was an apparent stress on the primacy of nature - the vastness of the universe, human beings, the smallest flower - which sometimes involved a concept of God or gods, and sometimes did not.
It may seem strange to suggest that images of God/gods may not always be much to do with the idea of God/gods at all (at least as these concepts are understood in European and American cultures), especially in the context of traditions that seem to use images of gods and God in their every nook and cranny. But that's part of the intention of this project; to try to open up a space, physically and aesthetically, which questions or reframes what might be understood by words like 'gods', 'God', man, nature - and the separations so often assumed to between such ideas.
In this wonderful book I've just received through the post, Dehejia talks about ''the extraordinary body-centred literary imagination' found in Indian art and literature.
'A stone inscription of thirty Sanskrit verses composed in the the late twelfth century speaks of the earth, the sky, and the temple in terms of human erotic love...:
First gratified...with the close embrace of the thighs of the earth, enjoyed by many princes, the surrounding sky, like a clever lover, accompanying his action with a smile of extreme love, eagerly, within sight of the damsels of heaven, kisses...the face of Fortune, this (temple) desirous of receiving on all sides the heavy embrace of bodies, trembling with pangs of love, of the women of the regions.'
And this description from a 12th century Prakrit text associated with Jainism, of the river Jamuna:
Her upper garment was the globules of foam and her glorious breasts the sporting rahanga birds. Her romavali, effective in distracting the minds of learned men, was the network of algae. Her beautiful ringlets of braided hair were the rows of bees, and her lengthy eyes, the petals of the blossomed lotus. Her navel, dispelling the heat of those with fever, was the whirlpool churned by the wind... Her buttocks were the wide, glistening sand banks.
romavali: fine line of hair running upwards from the navel and considered a mark of beauty
My oh my.