Jayasri Burman’s new body of work presents contrasts of sorts. For while she draws on her enduring fascination with Indian myths and folklore, there is something different in the treatment. There are a lot of black and white works, a departure from her vibrant watercolours. In Jahnavi, she uses charcoal and acrylic on canvas to create wide-eyed figures, their gaze fixed on a faraway point.
Her new solo, River Of Faith, focuses on the Ganga and the many myths surrounding the goddess. Burman creates a balance between myth and reality, depicting not just the stories the mighty river holds within but also questioning the pollution and everyday abuse of its waters. “As an artist and a humanist moved by the extreme desecration and pollution of the sacred waters of Ganges, she has presented a vibrant ensemble of creations in her show that questions, arouses, sensitises and soothes, calling audience attention to the river as a life force that instils strength, hope and spirit of preservation despite the upheavals that frequent it,” says Somak Mitra, director, Art Exposure, which is presenting the exhibition at Bikaner House, Delhi, till 19 December. The show will then travel to Kolkata.
River Of Faith has been curated by Ina Puri, who is familiar with Burman’s early experiments with screen printing and lithography. “What has stayed is her obsession with mythology. Her father used to recite the scriptures, and hence interpreting myths and legends comes naturally to her,” says Puri. While Burman’s latest work carries those early influences, it is firmly rooted in the present.
“Over 2020 and 2021’s pandemic gloom, I have witnessed the abuse faced by the Ganga on multiple occasions. Through my work I wish to spread the message that it’s a circle we all inhabit, and only if we nurture nature and not make her suffer will humanity be able to live harmoniously,” says Burman. It is not just the message but the artistic process too that bears the impact of the pandemic. For Burman dealt with the isolation by confining herself to the studio and painting with newfound zeal. “The works that emerged struck a balance between the mythical and the real, the tangible and what she experienced, watched and read,” says Puri.
Burman did extensive research on stories related to the river. In every painting, the Ganga emerges as a tall, looming, vibrant figure, yet there is a sense of loss. “The works represent her stand as a woman. It is not a feminist stand but her individual take on motherhood and suffering,” says Puri. There is a layering of the personal with a larger narrative. The mythical creatures that populate the canvases are not shown as demure creatures. There is a certain strength in their gaze. Multiple figures branching out from a single body show not only a multitude of perspectives but also the different approaches that Burman takes. “While earlier there was a certain formalisation in her work, now her style has become more organic and free-flowing. She is getting bold and confident in the way she paints,” says Puri.
The river and its many stories first came up in their discussions during a trip to Varanasi 10 years ago; on the planning board initially was a multi-artist, multidisciplinary show, with the likes of Chittrovanu Mazumdar, Girish Karnad and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. “Jayasri has really stuck to the concept and added to it by venturing into black and white drawings and sculptures,” says Puri. “These different directions are tied together with the image of the Ganga.”
River Of Faith can be viewed at Bikaner House, Delhi, till 19 December and at Art Exposure, Kolkata, from 21 December-1 March.