Tag Archives: art

On versions of the Ramayana and Mahabharata in South-East Asia

Sunday Vijay Times, Bangalore, 30 May 2004


THAI Airlines recently organised a Thai Ramayana at a five star hotel in Bangalore. The performance provided a good exposure to the rich art and also showcased the influence of Indian epics outside the subcontinent.

Art in Southeast Asia such as countries like Thailand,Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia could be of the religious traditions of  Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam, or could belong to indigenous cultures with flavours that are borrowed from either of these religions.There have been continuous migrations and settlement of Brahmins and Buddhist monks, who went along with Indian merchants to the Southeast Asian kingdoms of Java, Cambodia and Indonesia, thus bringing with them their religions, cosmologies, concepts of social and political structure, the Sanskrit alphabet and the rich religious literature of India. India continued to be a source of inspiration for Southeast Asian cultures for years after the sixth century when the Southeast Asian kingdoms were first established. Buddhist and Hindu devotees visited holy sites in India, returning with first hand impressions of Indian art and architecture, religious texts, and images of Buddhist and Hindu deities.

If you look at the arts, especially at the performing arts of places like Thailand, there still are very obvious traits of an Indian influence. The khon is a form of dance drama that originated in the 16th century in Thailand and uses as its source the Thai version of Valmiki’s Ramayana, called the Ramakien. The Ramakien is the same story as the Ramayana and exists in Thai oral culture before King Rama the first wrote it down in book form. But the characters differ in name, and some differences exist as a result of  adaptation into a different culture.

Hanuman in their version is a lover of women unlike our celibate Hanuman. Ayodhya is Ayuttaya and the story is set in an actual place in Thailand. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata still appear widely in popular folk drama, tales and art all over Southeast Asia. The content and nature of these epics is universal and encompassing so as to allow the freedom for them to be understood and adapted in all the myriad cultures of these countries. They are illustrated in the relief sculptures of temples such as the Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Rama temple in Malaysia, and mural painting in Vat Oup Moung, a Buddhist monastery in Vientiane, Laos. The Cambodian version is called Ramkear in the Khmer language.

The Wayang Kulit, the famous Javanese shadow puppetry also draws its inspiration from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Bharatavarsha (a tale depicting the war of the Kauravas and the Pandavas).Wayang Kulit siam performed in a region of Malaysia called the Kelantan draws from the Hikayat Seri Rama, which is a Malay adaptation. The interesting thing about this art is that most of the puppeteers (called Kelantan dalangs) are Muslims. Kelantan is a strongly Islamic region, but it is also the main base forthe Malay shadow puppet theatre. Like other adapted forms, the wayang throws in a handful of Javanese and Malay characters for good measure and then pits good against evil in a classic plot. Warrior animals, giants, princes, and priests are all created in intricate and detailed leather puppetry and come together in rousing music and drama.

Performances of the Ramayana, such as our local Ramlilas are still popular in temples such as the Hindu Civa temple of Prambanan in Yogyakarta, Central Java. This temple was built in the ninth century and has an open amphitheatre and arena theatre now to stage the Ramayana epic. The Indonesians have an annual opera based on the Ramayana that includes a cast of hundreds of players. Performances by Thai exile-es became extremely popular at the Burmese court where most traditional dramas were serious Buddhist stories such as the Jataka Tales. There are streets, banks, and travel agencies, and other places of business, which carry the names of characters from the Ramayana in Indonesia. These epics continue to appear in media such as film, comic books and television. Like all great stories they are not time-bound, and remain great sources of entertainment and wisdom, brought to life by the arts of these different cultures.

On a screening of the PBS Art 21 Series on American contemporary art

Sunday Vijay Times, Bangalore, 5 September 2004

ART 21, an eight-hour television series about contemporary American art in the 21st century, produced by PBS (Public Broadcasting Service, aprivate, non profit corporation comprising of America’s public television stations), was recently screened at the Chitrakala Parishath (CKP), by a group called ART (Art history,Resources and Teaching) in collaboration with the Department of Art History of the College of Fine Art at CKP .

With its focus on living and working artists with a range of themes and in different places, this series was a great insight into today’s world of visual art. Diverse in their media, themes, practices and inspiration, the featured works of the 16 artists had one common factor – the underlying complex and philosophical themes. The four themes for four seasons of the show were stories, loss and desire, humour and identity. Most work embodied a complexity of meaning and interpretation, but these were complex artists living in complex times.

The whole series – Art 21 – consisted of footage of the artists showing and speaking about their work, their philosophy of art, and the many things that art was to them. Some showed them working while most other parts were shot at their homes, galleries and other spaces they frequented. The films were engaging and intimate. In this sense the series made full use of the pedagogic potential of the television documentary.

Each programme began with an introduction by a famous arts personality to the theme of the segment.

Created by Charles Atlas, a film-maker and video artist, the openings featured film-maker John Waters, actress Jane Alexander, comedian Margaret Cho and dancer Merce Cunningham.The first part of season-one with the theme of stories featured Kara Walker,Kiki Smith, Do-Ho Suh and Trenton Doyle Hancock, with all of them using narratives in some way or the other.

Kara Walker’s work speaks of racism and gender in stories like ‘Gone with the Wind’. Her work comprises of tableaux with cutout silhouettes of characters in traditional tales involving African-American slaves and their masters.

Kiki Smith makes sculptures about the body and myths around it. Intrigued by witches, saints and catholic tales, she manipulates their traditional meanings in her work.

Do-Ho-Suh’s work is about issues of the individual and the collective. In several of his floor sculptures, viewers are encouraged to walk on surfaces composed of thousands of miniature human figures. In Some/One, the floor of the gallery was blanketed with a sea of polished military dog tags.Evocative of an individual soldier as part of a larger troop or military body, these tags swell to form a hollow,ghost-like suit of armour in the center of the room.

Trenton Doyle Hancock paints about the interactions between the comic characters  he creates, between mounds which are plant or human mutants, characters like Torpedo Boy which he claims to be his alter ego, another character called ‘the painter’ and so on .

The second theme called ‘Loss and Desire’ featured Collier Schorr, Gabriel Orozco, and Janine Antoni. Schorr works mainly in photography, but in ways that sometimes play on conventional views about the subjects she chooses. In her 2001-project ‘Forests and Fields’ , she dressed up young men in many different army uniforms and has them pose as soldiers in a mock battle. The pictures are shot to depict bravery, but these men are not real soldiers, so what does that say about both bravery and the uniform?

Gabriel Orozsco, one of the featured artists, is someone who on the surface manipulates games and objects, but all his work is deeply thought out  in terms of philosophy and relationships of object, man and nature. Janine Antoni makes sculpture and performance art, and sometimes both. In a work called ‘Lick and Lather’ she made busts of her portrait in chocolate and soap, and then videotaped her washing the soap figure and licking the chocolate bust. She was thus symbolically washing herself with herself and licking herself with herself.

The series was followed by a discussion by ART’s founding art historian, Annapoorna Garimella, Suresh Jayaram, artist and reader at the Art History department of CKP, and Vasanthi Das, film historian and visiting scholar at the department. During the discussion, a need for collecting and archiving art from places that don’t get spoken about, like the third world, emerged. A member in the audience also felt that Indian artists did not have the right platform to communicate their art to people.

On Nicholas Roerich

Sunday Vijay Times, Bangalore, 22 August 2004

NICHOLAS ROERICH (1894-1947) was a Russian born painter and scholar who contributed vastly to the arts and enjoyed an exalted reputation in the international art scene. He is one of those artists who not only voiced his opinion but also influenced change in the condition and outlook towards art.

Nicholas Roerich is well known in India due to his interest in India’s culture and philosophy. After having traveled widely all over the world with his partner Elena and conducting many expeditions across the length of ancient civilizations, he made India his home during the last years of his life.

The paintings he has made of the Himalayas are widely known and acclaimed. His son, Sveltoslav Roerich and daughter-in-law Devika Rani, the Indian movie star also settled in Bangalore in an estate called Tatguni. Sveltoslav, also a painter, is the founder of the art academy, ChitrakalaParishat in Bangalore.

Nicholas Roerich is also known for the Roerich Pact which aims at the protection of cultural treasures during times of both war and peace. He designed a flag, The Banner of Peace, to be flown over certain monuments and institutions, showing that the monument is neutral and not to be affected. As a teacher, spokesman for the arts and the Secretary of the School of the Society for the Encouragement of Art in St Petersburg, Roerich instituted a revolutionary system of training in art: to teach all the arts, from  painting, music, singing, dance, theatre and the so-called industrial arts, such as ceramics, painting on porcelain, pottery, and mechanical drawing under one roof. He also gave his faculty a free rein to design their own curriculum.

During his lifetime, Roerich made some 7000 paintings and published 30 books, along with costume and set designs for many Russian operas and plays, working with the likes of great composers like Igor Stravinsky.During his career as a theatre designer, he also created designs for most of Wagner’s operas.

Most of his paintings are picturesque and sweeping landscapes. He also made works that illustrate scenes and incidents from history.His career as a painter started at the university where he studied both art and the law. One painting that he made as a student called ‘The messenger to the master’s command’ was appreciated by both his teachers and contemporaries. It got him recognition among the artists in Russia.

His pictures speak mostly of spiritual journeys while some are of contemplative men in nature. His ‘Banners of the East’ series of nineteen paintings, depict men like Muhammad, Lao Tse, Jesus, Moses,Confucius, and Buddha, and the Indian and Christian saints and sages. They are very striking because of his use of colour, a trait he shares with contemporaries like Gauguin, but in terms of style they are largely stagnant. Unlike his contemporaries (the impressionists like Van Gogh who chose mundane and everyday subjects) he frequently alludes to historical, mythological and spiritual, Slavic and old Russian traditions. His work constantly brings up the inward and spiritual quest, with images of travellers to holy and sacred destinations, images of the mother goddesses and hermits.

The Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York is solely dedicated to showcasing his work and contribution. In the Roerich gallery at Chitrakala Parishat is a collection of paintings that he made of the Himalayas. His huge collection of paintings are spread out all over the world in private collections and museums.

Ind-Linux, women and the ‘free’-world.



When you feel like you’re feeding all your talent and your accomplishments down a bottom-less pit, stop and think, woman. They just don’t get it.


SO, where is the hope?


I have been attending the Free Open Source Software conference in Bangalore for the past three days now, and this is the beginning of my blogging foray about it.



This conference has been good for me so far, although there are still technical glitches in my mind about what artists and designers can contribute to the FOSS world. I’m attending this conference more because I’m interested in the frame-works that open-source communities work around, because it’s the culture that interests me and because I think I belong to it. However, as an artist who can do much more than graphics,I think that there are still directions that need charting out for both the creative world and the software world. I hope that somewhere along the next few days, some of those directions will emerge in our heads.



When you meet ‘brilliant’ women who pretend like there is nothing wrong or exclusionary about the scenario, they can’t be that brilliant, can they?


Today among the many worthwhile sessions I caught was the BOF or Birds of a feather session for Linux Chicks (written ‘Chix’, wonder why) India. And it brought it all back. And maybe there is hope.


When the damn patriarchy starts to damn you, then you could damn them back, they aren’t that holy anyway. But they ain’t even worth the effort.


Why must you evangelise Free Software among women? Because it just gets more women in. And because the technological world has the same problems as the real world although it pretends like it doesn’t, but the technological world has with it the possibility of creating freer worlds.


Feminist knowledge has been community oriented and community driven. Open Source frame-works are a vital part of such synergizing, because we in the open-source world believe in the power of collaboration, of shared frameworks and non-proprietary work that should benefit all humankind irrespective of existing hierarchies of power.


How much of your effort is lost in just trying to fight? A lot of women gave up doing the work that only they could have because they were stretched too thin.

So here it is. Get more women in. This is the only way. Stop being exclusionary and defensive about your knowledge assets. Get more democratic and participatory. Get innovative. Get out of the box. Start talking to more women. Stop trying to prove yourself to mentors who are sexist. Don’t waste your energy in listening to sexist critiques which try to dictate to you. There is work to do.


The centers of power have shifted. Maybe we’re all lagging behind .Look around. See. Refresh.

And no one can afford to hold on to their knowledge anymore. Someone would have stepped over them already. It’s smart to share, because jargon is just jargon. Everyone has their own. You need to communicate to get across, and start the real work.

When things get tight, the air needs to be let out, because that’s the only way to breathe.


The NewMediaFest 2007.Please go!

Labels is featured in the NewMediaFest 2007 from 1 November 2007 – 31 May 2008,

as part of the Java Museum‘s Shows on net.art.

Curated by Wilfred Agricola De Cologne this is a show that you must see, called

a+b =ba? [art+blog=blogart?]

ENTER a+b=ba[art+blog=blogart?]

And this way for entire NewMediaFest 2007.

^^^ ————————^^^

{labels is an arts and social entrepreneurial project located primarily on on the internet and realised with various groups .We seek to create empowering narratives of identity in collaboration with people who wish to explore and release themselves from an oppressive strand in their past, through a process that will be played out in life and in art.

Stay locked!}