Poushali Das is a mid-career Baroda-based artist who studied at Santiniketan and then came to Baroda to do her Masters in Painting. Since more than a decade, she has made Baroda her home, where she has her studio, exhibiting regularly in group shows. Ever since she was a student here, her engagement has been with minimalistic Orientalism, sometimes inspired by the rich tradition of Indian miniatures. She experimented with replacing canvas with fabric – mostly raw or thick silk. The textural effect it gave was rich and elegant, yet understated and did not overwhelm the image.
Recently, Poushali was at the Musashino Art University in Japan on a 6-month fellowship as professional advanced researcher. The work she did there was self-curated to present on her return as a Solo Show at the Nazar Art Gallery, Baroda, titled 108 Chanting Beats, in mid-November. As a student at Santiniketan, she was very well aware of the art of the Far-East – China and Japan. (Tagore’s Jorasanko and Santiniketan were centres of exchange of cultural values between India and the Far-East.) The traditional tempera techniques that she had learned and mastered during her years at Santiniketan, and later art practice, came into good use while she worked in Japan on the large silk and paper scroll paintings she made, based on the Buddhist Jatakas.
Explains the artist about her experience in Japan that is likely to impact her thinking and work as an artist, “I was exploring the stark variations in the natural climatic conditions in Japan while visiting ancient Buddhist monasteries and museums of traditional Japanese Art – a brilliant shower of golden sunrays coming on a heels of heavy rains accompanied by thunder and lightning!” She also tried her hand at Japanese calligraphic brushwork in sketching local landscape as well as flora and fauna. This is also essential to the tradition of Japanese calligraphy, that learners are required to make a careful study of the locale – flowers, fruits, trees, leaves, buds, blades of grass – and how they change in the seasons – spring, summer, autumn, winter. “Also as I started observing Japanese calligraphy and alphabets keenly, I could notice the relation between the physical objects and its symbolic representation in the alphabet. The calligrapher also takes close notice of this visual similitude and moves his brush accordingly with utmost economy of colour and forms. While attending many workshops with master artists of traditional Japanese painting, both in Tokyo Musashino University and Kyoto, I tried learning the technical aspects and assimilating the cultural affinities.”
Poushali’s display at Nazar welcomed visitors with a line of 108 visiting/calling card-sized works arranged in a straight row in the middle of the main gallery wall. Titled ‘108 Chanting Beats’, these works captured the essential minimalism of the Far-Eastern art traditions that celebrate a meditative, repetitive focus on a single image. Worked in tempera, water-colour and ink, the 108 works resonated with each other, yet stood separate on their own strength. They also became a visual representation of meditation by repetitive articulation as ‘108’ is a spiritual and sacred number in Buddhism and Hinduism, especially related to chanting a holy name or mantra.
Where did the idea of doing these ‘small’ artworks come from? Answers the artist, “Visiting cards are common-place in a new location. Every stranger one gets familiar with, offers a visiting card, bearing essentials of one’s identity. Constantly in flow among people, the visiting cards float in the society with the printed details of a person. In keeping with the idea of the spread of Buddhism from India in the fifth century BCE to as far as China, Korea and Japan, the visiting cards provide an interesting context for painting the images. Besides, the format becomes contemporary while keeping alive the essence of tradition.”
In addition to these small works, on display were two wonderful accordion books and several more works in which Poushali had painted landscapes and local flora.