The raas work is almost like a pichwai with complete detail of even the embroidery on the odhnis of the dancers.
I have been crying myself hoarse about the shared heritage of the arts and how sculptors are positively impacted by dance and dance impacted by music and music impacted by sahitya (literature) and all these combined and individually impacting painting. This interconnectedness finds different forms and manifestations — sometimes recognised and acknowledged and often not.
So it comes as a breath of fresh air when not only is this interconnectedness accepted but celebrated. For I feel that the arts are about celebration of every emotion from elation and to pathos. This came through at a recent solo exhibition “Dances of India and Elan” by Sailesh Sanghvi.
From a distance the works seemed almost naive but the moment one stepped closer, one was swept off by the sheer painstaking layers that the artist has created to give a delicate two-dimensional effect. He has chosen folk art performers like the kalbelia dancers, kachhi ghodi performers, bhangra dancers, puppet theatre, kathakali dancer (a classical form), raasleela and even an old style mujra dancer and created collages from canvas acrylic and paper in the most delicate manner. There is an almost miniature-like refinement in his chosen idiom. At places, there is a whiff of the Kalighat paintings and even the temple paintings on cloth — the pichwai.
If it is the kalbelia dancer, her swinging braid and twirling, highly embellished lehenga, her hair accruements, and the stylised clouds, the undulating dunes are all in tune with the fellow musicians as they play various instruments and the bobbing heads of the audience are created with an amazing eye for detail. Expressions and even complexions of the musicians and the audiences vary; their hairstyles vary, and so forth. If it is the bhangra dancers, their turbans, bright outfits and stance is all been captured to great specification.
The raas work is almost like a pichwai with complete detail of even the embroidery on the odhnis of the dancers. The Lord Rama character of a Kathakali dancer captures the red eye that is the hallmark of such a performance and is created by inserting a twig. To think that these are layered collages often cut with a ziz-zag scissor takes one’s breath away for sheer patience.
Same for the puppet performance work with dimensions of the stage created in huge triptych along with audience, puppets and the puppeteers, et al. The mujra work is really remarkable with the scene playing simultaneously on two levels complete with a rose sniffing nawab sahib perched on his buggy. The metaphor of the ghungroo runs through these dances if not obviously then in a salient manner which Sailesh has chosen to highlight with three installations one as a lamp perched on a pair of ghungroo sporting legs and a huge palliate ball-sized ghungroo and a tip tilted box from which pour out ghungroos and money — the inference is obvious.
The most remarkable part of these works is also the size. For the works are rather huge considering the genre and the detail — almost 106” x 60” as the largest triptych with such detailed work reminiscent of miniatures without losing sight of the balance is quite a feat. Simultaneously there a three works that need to be seen through a magnifying glass that is how miniscule they are. And here too the artist has been
able to get the expressions just right.
The show has been painstakingly created over 10 years, and I think somewhere along the line the artist must have undergone some feelings of vairagya (detachment) for there is a preoccupation with places like Hardwar and Banaras or feeling boxed in by a city. While there is an attempt to find space within these structures, there is also the deep need to soar above it all like a bird.
While the dance works are interesting and for me as a person who is deeply interested in dance they ring a ghungroo (pun definitely intended), it is these vairagya notes that I feel are probably the beginning of another journey of the artist and what he has shown here are just the nascent works and that there is more to come…
Dr Alka Raghuvanshi is an art writer, curator and artist and can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org