Dance, tribalism fuse in artist Niladri Paul’s works

September 29th, 2008 - 11:45 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 29 (IANS) The verdant Sal trees along the confluence of the Subarnarekha and Kharkhai rivers in Jharkhand’s Chhotanagpur hills after the monsoon, the azure skies and the Santhali tribals dancing to the sound of their drums on the river banks - contemporary artist Niladri Paul’s new body of works captures all this and more. The lissome brown bodies of the tribals, their graceful movements and floral ornaments merge with the damp ochre of the earth and the burgundy of the flowering plants overhead. The canopy of Sal trees smell crisp and the sky is pierced by stray puffs of autumn clouds. This forms the canvas of Delhi-based Niladri’s works titled “Raas Malazz”, an exposition of global dance forms and natural rhythms on 30 canvases, which will be displayed at the India Habitat Centre here Oct 1.

Niladri’s canvases are his recollections of a childhood spent amid the forests, rivers, hills and the brick kilns of tribal Jharkhand, where the women celebrated life’s myriad colours with their language of bodies - tribal dance.

“Their colours and movements are reflected in my work - the bright fuschia pink, scarlet, sulphur, lemon yellow, turquoise, mauve and a dash of emerald. The moment I dab a blob of emerald paint on my canvas, I know it is through,” the young artist told IANS at a preview of his works Sunday.

Niladri, who trained at the Kolkata-based Government Art College, has shown his works in Singapore, Lagos, Bangladesh, London and the US. His last solo show was held at the Jahangir Art Gallery in Mumbai in 2006.

“It took me two years to build up this spread of work because I spent one whole year travelling around the globe researching my subject - global rhythm and the aesthetics of body movement as forms of poetic expression,” he said.

His canvases are about dances - wanton movements of tribal dancers culled from folk and contemporary dance forms from across the world. It is an extension of his earlier series on classical music instruments of India through figurative forms called “Nada Brahma”.

The theme, the artist said, was “Navarasa” - the nine emotions that are fundamental to all Indian aesthetics like music, dance, theatre and poetry. And the aspect highlighted on the canvases was “Natya”, the representation of the man and the woman in their heightened state of “rasa” in their natural environment.

“Vasantsena”, the legendary dancer from the epic “Mrichhakatikam”, becomes a nymph of a tribal dancer lost in the primal rhythm of her body in an imaginary court of wooden logs, brown earth, baked clay and ochre walls painted in acrylic and oil colours on a canvas frame.

Deep red, black and cobalt shadows throw her sensuous silhouette and outstretched arms into sharp focus. Her lover, Charudutta, a Brahmin trader, is shown a poignant dancing hero clinging to a brown trunk of an ancient tree for support.

“Vaichikam”, a fusion of popular poster art and Navrasa, is a collage of dance recital and movie posters pasted at random in a village square.

A visage of a girl vies for space with a dancer’s finger movements or ‘mudra’ while the canvas, “Geet Govinda”, is a timeless tribute to the cosmic rhythm of Radha-Krishna in psychedelic shades of blue, scarlet, green, orange and brown.

“I visited Sri Lanka, Dubai, Thailand and Switzerland last year to study their folk dance forms and costumes for my show. I have also picked up movements and postures from the contemporary western dances of Martha Graham and her troupe - especially their minimalist costumes and theatrical movements. I have always been inspired by expression and movement. I hate anything static,” Niladri said, explaining the influences in his work.

“I was also struck by the nude pole dancers of Switzerland. They looked like works of art strapped on to poles,” he said. Some of their movements come through on his frames- in the supple bodies and postures of the dancing women.

Niladri’s works are priced between Rs.125,000 (over $2,500) and Rs.1.5 million.

The artist plans to work on a series of celluloid art for his next show.

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