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When two civilisations converge through art

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In the exhibition titled Indus Streams & Delphi Hills, artist Dr Rekha K. Rana has amalgamated two ancient civilisations to create a new narrative, through her recent artworks for her solo show in Mumbai. KALYANI MAJUMDAR has the story

Mostly based on numismatic and epigraphic analysis, the archaeological evidence throw light on the long and deep connection that India had with Greece. Especially, in the realm of art and architecture in India between 2nd century BC and 1st century AD, the Greek influence is evident. Despite of these cultural exchanges between the two giants in the ancient period, a lack of documentation has left a vacuum in the Indo-Greek connections and similarities that did exist once upon a time. Rana in her artworks focusses on these similarities between these two civilisations and her works weave a beautiful story displaying the semblance of these two great and ancient civilisations.

The story behind the artworks
Rana is known for undertaking a lot of research work before coming up with a solo show. For Indus Streams & Delphi Hills too, she did an in-depth research on the Greek civilisation and the mythologies associated with it. Her mixed-media canvasses convey the detailed nature of her work, with each canvas telling a story that draws narratives from Indo-Greek civilisation. On asking why she chose this particular theme the artist said, “It is stated that Indo-Greek cultural history has not been very well documented in spite of continuous stream of socio-political happenings, exchanges and establishment of army colonies spreading the cultural practices. It is amazing to observe the similitude and correspondences between various visual forms in India and Greece. This cannot be only a result of extending or shrinking of political boundaries in different eras. Logically speaking, there must have been close linkages between the cultures for much older periods than known to the historians. The symbols and visual metaphors used in Khovar and Sohrai folk paintings also find place on the seals and art works on the earthen pots of the Greek artists.”


Staying true with the time period
Rana’s earlier work, Benares to Bombay had used very vibrant and colourful palette, yet in her present works she has used earthy colour palettes, when asked, if this was a conscious attempt to move away from bright tones, the artist explained, “The selection of the colours is based on the subject undertaken for the creation . The period I am dealing with only used earthy colours. Bright and vibrant colours are used in subsequent phases of time. My effort has been to give authenticity to the works and remain veritable in the context of time.”
She also added, “There are two parts of creation; one is inner and the other one is a manifestation. The first part is the conceptualisation where the subjects encounter the artist. A dialogue develops between the artist and the subject and continues, till it is assimilated by me. There is a long drawn process happening inside, beginning with vague and sketchy ideas to the concrete forms. This is the reason that when a work gets its existence outwardly,
there is a little hesitation in the expression.
This work process also gets translated into the selection of colours, brush strokes and the other materials used.”

Seals from the past
Rana’s recent artworks transcends the viewer to the Indo-Greek period giving an impression of looking at seals and plaques from archaeological findings. The work titled, Hippolyta with Athena’s Snake is a lovely example of the artist’s imagination combined with her thorough knowledge of the classical Greek mythology. In this mixed-media canvas, the Greek Goddess Athena, the Goddess of knowledge, handicrafts and warfare is shown wearing Hippolyta’s headgear. Hippolyta was an Amazonian queen. She was the daughter of Ares, God of war and he had given her a magical girdle. Rana has beautifully juxtaposed the two personalities giving a new rendition.

Drawing parallel stories
It is very interesting to see how Rana has combined the different mythical stories. In her work, titled, Athena and the Himalayas she has beautifully drawn parallel examples between the stories and culture of Greece with India wherein, both cultures hold similar beliefs that all the Gods and Goddesses reside in the mountains. The similarities are evident, for instance, Athena is associated with Mount Olympus and Lord Shiva with Mount Kailash in the Himalayas. Another work worth mentioning in this context is Marzo and Black Crow. Rana depicts the similar mythical landscape that exists in India and Greece through this work in which she describes that crows are considered to be the representatives of our ancestors. She further adds that even in Indian literature the poets predominantly used the black crows to convey the messages of somebody’s likely arrival, and March is called Marzo in Greek and in ancient Greece this month denoted festivity.

Her influences
While talking about her journey as an artist, Rana mentions that there are numerous facets that come in the way during the creative journey, wherein, some may have a temporary impact on the mind and a few calls for longer attention. And it is reflected in her work titled, Not Very Far from the Home. This artwork is special to her, as it has a close association with her native place, Jharkhand. While researching she came across an art composition on an ancient Greek pot that had four people trying to get a fruit from a tree, and in Indian folk art and painting from East India similar subjects are found. The flora and fauna of the Jharkhand region are similar to the art forms used in ancient Greek art and it evoked memories of her birthplace. As Rana says, “It’s important to state here, that the background and mental constitution of the artist play a determinative role in selecting the subject. Also, the journey of an artist has many accidental moments which inspire for innovative works.”

Event detail
What: Dr Rekha K. Rana’s show, Indus Streams &
Delphi Hills (Indo-Greek reminiscences)
When: On till June 4, 2018
Timings: 11am – 7pm
Venue: Jehangir Art Gallery, Gallery No 1, Kala
Ghoda, Mumbai