Review by Georgina Maddox
January 31, 2018


Verdant Memory
A. Ramachandran, Arpita Singh, Atul Dodiya, Anindita Bhattacharya, Chameli Ramachandran, G.R. Iranna, Gargi Raina, Jagannath Panda, Mala Marwah, Manisha Gera Baswani, Manjunath Kamath, Neha Lavingia, Nirmaljit Paintal, Paramjit Singh, Priya Ravish Mehra, Poushali Das, Sebastian Varghese, Seema Kohli, Shanthi Swaroopini Roy, V. Ramesh and Wardha Shabbir.
Janauary 12, 2018 onwards
Gallery Threshold, New Delhi

By Georgina Maddox

I remember as a child the smell of Champa made me swoon. No, literally, it made me swoon because it was such a strong sweet smell. As a youngster, I had a propensity to climb trees and I was lured by the seemingly welcoming branches of the Champa. As I inched closer, the overpowering smell of the Champa caused me to swoon and fall off the tree. It was not good for my ‘tough image’ and I remember all the kids laughed at me, as children often do. This memory should have traumatized me, instead it instilled a strange sense of awe around the Champa tree. I grew to love it’s the fragrance even more, although I have learnt not to smell it from too close.

This memory was triggered when I visited Tunty Chauhan's anniversary exhibition Verdant Memory, precisely because the show is evocative of such personal memories. The exhibition takes you on a journey, through the gentle and unabashedly beautiful depiction of flowers, plants and trees. India has a long tradition of drawing and painting of plant life and animals right from the time of the Mughals to the exquisite nature and botanical studies during the British period. “I have invited the participating artists to attempt and endeavor to primarily draw upon these nature and plant studies and paint and draw images inspired by nature and plant life akin to botanical studies which would capture the smell and sounds of their childhood memories,” says Chauhan. It essentially intends to capture the essence of an emotional experience or ‘Rasa’.

Our memories of childhood are often recollected and defined by not only smells and sounds but also surprisingly and very frequently by flora and fauna. We remember with great pleasure and a sense of nostalgia, the taste of say green mangoes stolen from a neighborhood garden or the scent of certain flowers in particular seasons or association of Champa and Raat ki Rani that speak of fragrant nights spent on open terraces, and the association of Marigold and Jasmine with rituals. The exhibition attempts to capture in so many images this sense of nostalgia as well as an innocent delight and joy experienced with nature.

The roster of artists featured in the exhibition are impressive, from senior artists Aprita Singh, Paramjit Singh, V Ramesh, A and Chameli Ramachaandran, to successful mid-career artists like Atul Dodiya, Priya Ravesh Mehera, Manisha Gera Bawani and rare work by Gari Raina. It also features young talent like Anindita Bhattacharya and Sabastian Varghese.

Gargi Raina's work speaks intimately to the theme, where she personalizes each painting of a flower with a portrait of herself at different stages of her life. Each flower becomes symbolic of a time in the artist’s life, from the innocence and vulnerability of childhood to the maturing of womanhood. As the artist ages accordingly the flowers develop thorns and protective elements.

Paramjit Singh’s small format landscapes provide us with a depth and richness of a dark forest, one that he is familiar with only through his minds eye, given that these spaces are shrinking. Singh recalls, “When I was young I had a bicycle and I would load its carrier with papers and pencils and go into the woods to sketch.” It is those formative years that have fed his art for decades. While Singh’s work is quite universal, the forest and its unspoken secrets take one to a place of personal mystery. One gets a sense that the trees and thicket are all larger than life.

Another artist who plays with the idea of scale is Atul Dodiya, where he imagines a tiny man seated under a large plant, which appears like a potted house plant and not a large tree or even a bush which logically it should be in order to give shelter to a human being. By reversing the man-plant ratio he makes an interesting statement about the mythical nature of plants.

A. Ramachandran takes it a step further by imagining himself as a mischievous bee pollenating flowers in the garden of heavenly delights. The plant studies are absolutely delightful in their rendering and recalls the Eastern school of painting.

Sebastian Varghese approaches his painting as a botanist recording his surroundings, with cross-sections of the flowers and meticulous reproductions of the whole plant as well. It is also laden with undertones of the Colonial, since the trading of jackfruit plantations of Kerala were the product of English and Portuguese Colonization. His painting of a Touch Me Not humorously inserts a hand hovering above a flower, referenced from Michael Angelo’s, Creation of Adam. Manjunath Kamath injects a sense of humor into the story of Colonization, by creating precious replicas of the cashew nut, coconuts, ginger, turmeric, banana, sapota, and black pepper as porcelain sculptures.

V. Ramesh’s reverential and delicate study of jasmine flowers wrapped in banana leaf speak of the flower’s transcendental union with the maker. The flowers appear as a votive tribute to their creator in an act of prayer. It is through his exploration of the Bhakti and Sufi faiths that he has arrived at a focus on the metaphysical qualities bestowed upon these plants, when they are offered up to God and how it changes their very nature.

The plant-life rendered by Anindita Bhattacharya, Paushali Das and Manisha Gera Baswani all take their reference from the Indian Miniature paintings. However, each artist approaches it in their own unique way. While Bhattacharya creates a set of paintings that are dark beautiful studies of the banana and oak tree, set against a stormy sky Das pulls out to look at a lush landscape that once again belongs to a bygone era. The curator has arranged the works interestingly as they appear to unfold like a scroll, wrapped around a pillar. Baswani creates jewel-like representations of the lotus and water lilies, placing them within roundels that resemble playing cards made during the miniature era.

The exhibition Gallery Threshold as a satellite event to the India Art Fair.