By Shakti Maira
Shakti Maira muses about the inspiration behind his latest showing, The Sangha.
The Sangha is a group of 12 majestic sculptural figures, each about six feet tall. Together they form a community of spirit, a garland held together by something mysterious and beautiful. The idea behind the Sangha was of giving life and palpable artistic form to spiritual seeking – the quest, the journey, the signposts.
The Sangha pivots around a pair – two conjoined figures, their physical togetherness perhaps a symbol of the meeting of minds and a singleness of purpose, stand locked in intense communion, the taller, male figure whispering into the ear of the feminine one.
The other ten figures are gathered around this central pair and seem oriented towards that delicate moment, as they listen in and respond to what has been said with a range of movements and expressions – of concentration, delight, contemplation, devotion, rapture, laughter – all stages and experiences that occur during the spiritual journey.
There are many spiritual paths, and in a sense, each individual forges his or her own special way to traverse the deep terrain of spirituality. In my journey, Buddhism has been a strong inspiration, and indications of this are manifest in the visual forms that appear in my work – monks, robes, caves, the stupa, the alms bowl, the path.
My intentions in making art have for long been aligned with the concept that art should uplift and transform both the artist and the viewer, through an integrated engagement of the senses, the emotions, and the mind.
Even though my art has often been described as spiritual, and in a sense it certainly is, yet I am not drawn to religious beliefs or prayer, and my art has never been about religious subjects. In fact, I am wary of all forms of self-conscious spirituality, traditional or New Age, and the art associated with them.
My art is very simply about the concerns I have at that time. My work has always been ‘realistic’. I have made art about the real world as I experience it. A world that is filled with the tangible physical – what I can see with my eyes, and the tangible mental – feelings, thoughts and ideas. I have found it difficult to get excited about the reductionist and materialistic concepts in Modern Art, where the art object is a reality unto itself – ‘art for art’s sake’.
For me, art has always been a medium of communication. Though Abstract Art has sometimes powerfully communicated with the senses and the spirit, it has usually neglected emotions and cognitive thought. Nor have I been much enthused by Conceptual Art. It seems too cerebral, often ignores the senses, and minimises emotions.
It is also difficult for me to take too seriously the art practices these days that are so substantially swayed by the agendas of marketing, investing, and conspicuous consumption.
Many artists do not make much art themselves. For me, working with my hands is necessary. I think it imbues my art with a certain subtle quality that would not be possible otherwise.
Integration is an essential quality in spirituality. It is only when we become integrated and whole that we are able to experience depth, spaciousness and oneness. Art cannot be fully spiritual if it is only conceptual. I think for art to become imbued with the capacity of inspiring spiritual experience, as it can and has done in the history of all cultures, the idea and the material are best formed in the crucible of human hands.
The essential form of the Sangha is a figure rising from the earth, rooted and still, seemingly echoing the organic growth of trees. These emergent figurative forms have sinuous lines and textures, evoking the fluidity and merger of the earth with the bark, the folds of a mendicant’s robes. Their limbs are invisible, though suggested, and there is evidence of restrained movement – a step, a turn, a pause.
The Sangha sculptures are an outcome of a long creative journey – the form that would eventually become the Sangha can be traced to 1989. With no formal training, my first steps into sculpture happened in a local junkyard in New Hampshire, USA, where I lived at the time. I picked up odds and ends in metal at a junkyard and developed my first sculptural series, Sunyatta. I then took pottery classes to understand clay and developed the Silent Witnesses. On my return to India in 2001, this sculptural form has continued to evolve, through the Seekers in smaller bronzes, and now in the Sangha.
I do not think I am done yet with this form, and the creative idea inherent in it. What is deeply felt lingers, and tends to reappear in one’s imagination, dreams and art. I am keeping an open mind about where my creative journey might flow.
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