The Shape: Picture Narratives (two of x)

03/25/2013 § Leave a comment

On a Sunday in February I spent some time with the modern Indian paintings at the Peabody Essex Museum. I came across Manjit Bawn’s 1984 painting Dharma and the God.

Dharma and the God by Manjit Bawa, 1984

Dharma and the God by Manjit Bawa, 1984

An object on a simple surface – its contours attracted me. Lately I have thought so much about context; here was an opportunity to focus on just the object and the beauty of a sinuous line encompassing something magical that I did not care to fully understand – I breathed in my bewilderment, just like Rumi advised: “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” And so I did, and I remember feeling content with squinty happy eyes. I sat and doodled: figure on background.

Later, on a Thursday evening, I returned to the museum for a reading by modern Indian authors, among them Suketu Mehta. But I fell in love with Rishi Reddi from the moment she called herself a feminist. A word so often taken out of context, misunderstood, triggering misunderstandings. After the reading, I went up to tell her how glad I was to hear that currently maligned word, and she told me “we need to bring it back,” and we do. In this case context prevailed?

But, the first reading was by Rajesh Parameswaran. He showed Manjit Bawa’s painting Krishna and the Snake as he read a precise seemingly banal tale of a tiger’s love for its zookeper.

Krishna and the Snake by Manjit Bawa

Krishna and the Snake by Manjit Bawa

Its ending still bewilders me and it tantalizes; much like Bawa’s painting, you feel the shape (of image, of narrative) like a flickering breeze, soft on the skin. Again I was brought to a complex smile that was really a marvel at the capacity of imagination to bring wonder to the world and make me forget myself. Within the precise shape (of image, of narrative), yes, there is a context, deep and interwoven, but for now, the shape itself can be enough to bring a smile and raise an eyebrow.

In Minneapolis, at the Walker Art Center, I sat, transfixed to the changing shapes on monitor. I sat for a long time. Shape after shape after shape. (Thank you, Erwin Wurm, 59 Positions, 1992)IMG_2694 IMG_2695 IMG_2696 IMG_2698 IMG_2699 IMG_2700 IMG_2701 IMG_2703 IMG_2704 IMG_2705 IMG_2706 IMG_2708 IMG_2710 IMG_2711 IMG_2713

The shapes are solid but not static; they breathe visibly. But then, photo after photo, I realize that what is important for me is the shape context. The shapes changing as the museum goers go here and there and create an unintended canvas. Yes, the shape has to be good to converse fluently with its surroundings, but that conversation is what really holds, and adds to the dynamism, and evokes the present.



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