The Delhi based artist Seema Kohli showcased a recent compilation of work in the solo exhibition ‘Golden Womb – Dawn of Time’ at Kalakriti art gallery in Hyderabad, South India. The exhibition brings together a select compilation of Kohli’s works in varied media, exploring the perpetual renewal of life and a celebration of the feminine aspect in multidimensional forms. The Artist’s practice, over the years, has embraced diversity and evolved through many different experiences; while being positioned in the contemporary space, it remains deeply connected to knowledge embedded in ancient scriptures, mythology and broader cultural history. Her visual narratives connect the microcosm to the macrocosm, as she contemplates on the Self, the creation of the universe, time and space, energy and sustenance, life and death. Swirling, dynamic colours, free-flowing forms and rhythmic pattern epitomise the emergence of new worlds. Pathways of connected thought can be traced through the paintings, sculptures, prints, poetry and performative acts, which jointly piece together the journey she has completed thus far; it also suggests the directions towards which she is headed. Her creative language moves vertically and laterally, growing and shaping itself to the constantly fluctuating world, while holding on to a core of truth.
Seema Kohli's exhaustive practice spans over three decades. Her art is an engagement with the philosophical enquiry of life, personal and collective. It is through the visual language of art that she tries to grasp the metaphysical truth of existence and the cosmic energy that is responsible for all creation. She has had 20 solo shows and has been a part of numerous national and international shows, each time showing work that evolves in a new direction. Years of multi-disciplinary practise have contributed to Seema’s diverse visual vocabulary, in which a succession of organic transformations can be marked. Everything she experiences, views, reads or absorbs in other ways filters down into nuanced interpretations that take varied physical forms. Through her works she seeks to understand the organic and continuously evolving processes of all beings and matter. Mountains of fecund earth, ever-bountiful trees, vast oceans, flowing streams and fragrant atmospheres, the warmth of the sun and healing winds that follow horizons to infinity; Seema Kohli knows them well - these forms and energies that make up our world and universe. She recognises each element as part of her own being, reliving the awareness through constant visual and conceptual acknowledgment in her art. Her work seemingly emerges from an open channel that brings past, present and future into a palpable sphere of understanding, retrieving beginnings and projecting continuity of life in its timeless cycles. She consciously synthesises divergences and builds pathways between extremes, offering perceptions of a balanced mindscape. Every day is an awakening, every moment of creativity opens the consciousness to new experience. The understanding of this awakening is visible in physical, artistic, conceptual and spiritual expressions through the medium of art. She says, “Through my works I seek to understand the organic and continuously evolving processes of all beings and matter. For over twenty-six years, I have been interested in showing the state of flux of the body and mind using various mediums and materials.” A deep tolerance towards the Other and acceptance of change is embedded in her philosophy of living, characterised in the themes she chooses to depict. These themes transcend myopic views of reality and spring from an evolved understanding of ancient knowledge systems and recognition of dimensions beyond the immediate material world.
Resonant in the title of this compilation of work, Hiranyagarbha is a concept Seema Kohli became interested in about twenty years ago. On an occasion she had visited the pilgrim centres Haridwar and Rishikesh, where she saw cavities on the sand banks of the river Ganga that happened to be formed over a long period of time as the river changed its course. “They reminded me of a womb, and the quietude and solace that I found while sitting inside one of these cavities was extremely powerful.” she explains. In ancient Vedic philosophy, Hiranyagarbha or the Golden Womb is the primordial and eternal womb that nourishes, generates, and revives the cosmic order. All Becoming takes place in this receptacle. As a space within a space, it encompasses all universes, and also the five elements—earth, water, fire, air, and ether. The Hiranyabarbha pervades all creation as it transcends time and space by expanding and advancing infinitely in the cosmos; the universe that first formed was neither male, nor female – it gave birth to Maya or illusion. Hiranyagarbha, the name, also refers to the Sun god. As someone attuned to a spiritual mode of study and deeply conscious of comprehending the multi-layered dimensions of feminine energy, Seema elucidates the philosophy as the emergence of creation from the feminine aspect of the Sun. Her works and writings contemplate Shakti, Prakriti or Nature as concentrated in the ultimate Being – an amalgamation of man and woman – creation being the celebration of the feminine aspect of that Being. The compositions on the subject evoke an ethereal quality, often illumined with the device of gold leaf set against jewel-like colours and intricate black pattern.
Circular and elliptical shapes appear and reappear in Seema’s creations, often holding within them a locus point around which much else radiates. The Ovoid is the constant reminder of the garbha, egg or seed, the birth of new life and continuity of generations. The circle is a geometric shape with no beginning and end; it can contain within its boundary mandalas of different mathematical orientations, and spreads from the tiniest dot to an all-embracing aura; in voluminous form, a globe establishes a connection between an inner world (microcosm) and an outer world (macrocosm). Seema opines, “A circle reminds me of continuation, repetition, movement and a tireless journey; hence the cycle of life where there is no space for the concept of death (finality). There is only constant procreation, positive recycling and an unending journey - where everything is static in motion as the vortex is in complete control of all movement.”
Seema indicates the organic manner in which sculptural forms came about in her work, as certain imagery in her paintings began to demand a different dimension. “Some (images) were happy as paintings, some as drawings, some wanted to be three dimensional as sculptures and some still wanted the moving image, hence came the experiential performances. I started with clay, then ceramic sculptures, and then cast them in bronze. As I was working on the bronzes with detailing I felt the urge to move my paintings on the sculptures. Thus the fibre-glass sculptures came about.” Lately, she has begun a series that combines the flat painted surface with extruding sculptural objects.
Her etchings vibrate with energy articulated through the minimal. Seema responds to the technique, invoking a new silence in her language. The muted tonal variations of aquatint and crisply incised intaglio accentuate the relationship of positive and negative space, the yin and yang, darkness and light.
Like the many-branched tree of life in the paintings that symbolically embraces all that comes into its shelter, Seema embraces life in its entirety and complexity, creating and translating moments of experience, rooted in timelessness but shared in the present.