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How Lal Ded's songs inspired a new body of work by Wolf Jaipur

In Wolf Jaipur’s new show, ‘Song to Self’, the artist duo transform scraps, discards, and waste materials to tell stories of reflection and reawakening inspired by Lal Ded’s songs

Detail of a new work from the show, ‘Song to Self’
Detail of a new work from the show, ‘Song to Self’

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Wolf Jaipur’s new work, Attune, is an intricately-layered one. At first glance, you can see a serpentine set of lines running across the artwork. However, within the folds, other motifs become visible—forests, streams, leaves and skeletons. “Healing comes from nature. The journey inwards comes with its share of darkness. Aim to see the skeletons in the dark recesses of the body—and then tune into forests—with the sounds of birds, running streams, rustling leaves, and be guided towards your own true nature,” mentions the note by artists Ritu and Surya Singh, who together form Wolf Jaipur. It is this reflective and contemplative journey that forms the essence of their new show, ‘Song to Self’, on view at Method, Kalaghoda, 7 October onwards.

This body of work stays true to their practice of transforming scraps, discards, and waste materials to tell stories connected to the earth. In the past decade, such works have taken the shape of two public art installations in Jaipur city, and also been part of a collateral project at the Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018. In the ongoing show, for works like Attune, they have used vintage ledger papers, used watch parts, rice, acrylic paint, scrap radio parts, metal chains, resin, wooden frames.

‘Song to Self’ is inspired by the words of the 14th century Kashmiri mystic and poet, Lal Ded, fondly known as Lalla. Ritu and Surya Singh have interpreted her songs through scrap and found objects from Kashmir and around the world. The show hopes to honour ancient feminine wisdom.

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Ritu Singh’s engagement with Lal Ded’s words goes back many years. “I found Lalla while working on other projects. Her words about moving from the outside to the inside really resonated with me. After our show, last year, we delved deeper into her songs. Ranjit Hoskote’s book, ‘I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded’, was a great help with its translations and explanations. It’s amazing that this person from the 14th century continues to touch a chord with people across time,” she says.

She further elaborates on how Lal Ded’s profound words, expressed in the form of ‘vakhs’ or a series of instructions that teach us how to live and love our bodies, our souls, this earth and the cosmos, is so universal—embracing all genders and all cultures.

Ritu and Surya embarked on a journey across Kashmir in May-June this year, looking for Lal Ded. The idea for the show took root during the various lockdowns during the peak of the covid-19 pandemic. With the artists confined to their home, a lot of time was spent sifting things that mattered from those that didn’t. “The thought that those who haven’t travelled within haven’t travelled at all, began to play on the mind. The journey of self-introspection to Kashmir began with this idea,” says Ritu. After the despair and suffering caused by the pandemic, reflecting on Lal Ded’s words while walking through the deodhar forests, by lakes and in gardens was like a soothing balm. “Throughout the journey, we kept asking people what Lal Ded meant to them, and the perspectives were so insightful,” says Ritu.

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Objects and impressions from this journey have found their way into the artworks. The artist note mentions how serpent power permeates the works for its range of meanings: from Kundalini Shakti to the need for love and tolerance towards that which we don’t understand. “Living on a farm, we have embraced and are guided by these mysterious beings as they remain in our subconscious and reveal themselves through the artworks. The colours for the show bring together masculine and feminine—blue and red. Embracing both within and outside of ourselves. Creation needs both!” further states the note.

Both Surya and Ritu feel that the materiality of the works is serendipitous. “There is a story that needs to be told and we find materials around it,” says Surya. In the past, many art enthusiasts have told them that a certain material works in their works and perhaps they should stick with it. “We can’t do that as our materiality changes every time we go to the scrap market. However, for this show, we did deviate and used a lot of found objects from Kashmir,” he adds. Leaves, coxcomb flowers, pine cones, deodhar trees served as inspiration. “The story and material progress together. The materiality connects with the idea,” says Surya. “What a time it has been, to be led by Lalla. This show continues where we left off, seeking answers within ourselves in the age of a feminine awakening.”

‘Song to Self’ will be on display at Method, Kalaghoda, between 7-21 October on all days, except Monday from 11am-9pm. The preview will be held on 6 October

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