It was as if I had collected these myriad experiences over nearly half a century so that they would converge in Ehsaas.
There is a beautiful couplet by Hafeez Jalandhari that goes like this Shair-o-adab ki khidmat mein, jo bhi Hafeez ka hissa hai Ye nisf sadi ka qissa hai, do-chaar baras ki baat nahin Loosely translated it means: In the service of poetry, whatever be the humble role played by Hafeez (the poet), is not a story of a couple of years but of half a century My involvement with the project, Ehsaas is something like this. What started out as a serious experiment to transpose paintings on to fabric eventually came to become one of the biggest, first-ever serious and unique multi-discipline stage presentation of art, design, music, dance, handlooms, sahitya, photography and film where the eight forms converge.
The actual Ehsaas took me exactly one year to put together from 2011 end till 2012 end but I feel that many skills — my writing on the arts for 40 years, curatorial practice, painting, book production, dabbling in dance and music, designing sarees were all put to use! It was as if I had collected these myriad experiences over nearly half a century so that they would converge in Ehsaas.
And I say this in all humbleness. For the first time in recent history, Ehsaas brought together 31 top classical dancers, musicians and painters to give this very important figurative component to “static contemporary art” and make it a moving installation. With their distinct personalities, they bestow a figurative dimension to the canvas of five contemporary painters. This time one more dimension has got added to Ehsaas by way of a very lyrical film on the project by theatre and film personality Rajesh Tailang.
The film will be shown in many places including the National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Manama over the next few months. “Ehsaas is ephemeral experience, but we wanted to capture the many moments of Ehsaas so that we could savour them yet again, the result is Ehsaas,” he said. The performers who were part of the first Ehsaas held in 2012 staged in the ramp, will this time light up the proscenium stage to walk swathed in these creations.
The formations vary because of the needs of the stage being different from the ramp and the dancers will perform short interludes of dance movements. I am deeply touched that not only was I convinced about the multi discipline production, the performing artistes too were convinced about it. They have kept the outfits they wore so well and were happy to be part of it again.
It is like seeing history being made for it is a sight fit for the Gods, by artists who constitute Indian culture of this century. It had several components: The curation of the art works: I chose five artists’ works: Niren Sengupta, Shridhar Iyer, Sanjay Bhattacharya, Manisha Gawade and my own — sifted through nearly 1000 paintings before selecting 50 works. Using these paintings I designed sarees, Unisex stoles, ties and leather bags.
The sarees were designed and digitally created on hand woven tussar fabric, the ties and stoles were in silk. In addition, I created jewellery — neck pieces — out of my paintings and strung with semi precious stones. I wrote a beautifully illustrated book on the subject, with photographs by Umesh Verma on the experience of Ehsaas. I curated an exhibition about Ehsaas, with the actual paintings, the sarees, the ties, the stoles, the bags being the inanimate displays.
But still I felt something was missing — the figurative dimension — after all, sarees or ties need to be worn by people. I didn’t want lifeless deadpan faced models to sport these works of art. Hence I chose classical dancers and musicians and of course artists to take to the stage wearing these creations for I find them very beautiful and interesting personalities, with arresting faces. The idea was to look at culture as a composite whole and not in pockets of isolation.
I think the beauty and charm of our classical icons is so appealing, arresting and inimitable and timeless that anyone who saw them in those outfits or saw any component be it the book, the exhibition or the live show will never forget it. I was so magical! I still have goose flesh when I talk and think about it! Can you imagine a show of 32 legends of the arts in one place wearing art on them? It was as gods had descended to create an array of many moons!
The artists who will light up the artistic firmament on stage are the who’s who of Indian culture including the veritable epitome of dance Pandit Birju Maharaj in a special appearance. Dancers who are part of the mobile installation are Sharon Lowen, Shaswati Sen, Shovana Narayan, Uma Sharma, Prathibha Prahlad, Bharati Shivaji, Ranjana Gauhar, Kaushalya Reddy, Rashmi Vaidialingam, Arushi Mudgal and Bhavana Reddy. These are women have kept the flag of the saree flying high and have continued to sport sarees in virtually every situation.
The musicians who are part of this unique confluence include vocalist Madhup Mudgal, santoor exponent Bhajan Sopori, Dhrupad maestro Wasifuddin Dagar, singer Radhika Chopra, classical vocalists Meeta Pandit and Sawani Mudgal, santoor player Abhay Sopori, theatre and television artiste Sunit Tandon, filmmaker Rajesh Tailang, photographer Avinash Pasricha and art gallerist Mahesh Bansal and poet and writer Sunita Buddhiraja who give Ehsaas its special magical touch. Ehsaas is also an attempt to contemporise the saree and enthuse and inspire the coming generation to flaunt this timeless unstitched six yards. With the Indian woman as the inspirational mainstay, the idea is to blend ancient art with an eclectic vision to emphasise craftsmanship and lend it the necessary impetus.
These sarees are chic, elegant and fit in veritably every situation from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to the board room to a cocktail party. They can be dressed up or dressed down. In real terms it took time to create Ehsaas, but the wonderful Ehsaas of Ehsaas, will linger in hearts long after in much more ways… Out of the box, Ehsaas
Dr Alka Raghuvanshi is an art writer, curator and artist and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org