Cycle of Life

by Shilpa Raina
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In its narrow room inside Aspinwall House, a giant egg occupies its space so wholly that it seemingly leaves little room for observers to doubt its intent, or even move about for that matter. And yet, the sculpture – aptly named ‘Garbh’ – is pregnant with meaning.
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Composed of vibhuti (holy ash) coated over a metal support frame, the egg – created by Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) 2016 participating artist G.R. Iranna – is not merely an allusion to the cycle of life and death. It ponders also whether there could be life after, or even from, death.
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“My intention was to make form from the formless,” says Iranna, a Delhi-based artist whose works often make a comment on the violence and aggression of life. In Garbh, he prompts viewers to engage with such ideas as life being a mirror to death or remembering life in death.
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Taking his cue from the importance accorded to ash in scripture, Iranna looks at how life takes form out of the void and returns to it in death. He used ash collected from Varanasi and other places to create the installation, which weighs around 1,200 kg and has some five or six layers.
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Vibhuti, to which several meanings and purposes are attributed in Hinduism, is made from burnt dried wood in Agamic rituals. It is traditionally applied by adherents as three horizontal lines across the forehead and other parts of the body.
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“Ash is a material I have always been fascinated with. It is the product after purification through fire, the remains of the dead,” said Iranna, who used the vibhuti – the last remnants of a no-longer existent body, “something close to nothingness”, to create the shelled womb. “The work can have multi-layered perspectives depending on how much time you spend with it,” he says.
His solo exhibition in the city, titled, ‘Ether is all that is’ comprises of 10-12 art works of canvases, paper works and installations and the medium used vibhuti and acrylic. Using ash as a primary medium in this series of work, which is further referred to as a metaphor for the impermanence of life.” Birth and death, thereby, exist together, as one. We rise from the dust and we go back to ash. What remains is an infinite nothingness. The ash is spiritually believed to ward off negative energies and the artist through his work makes an attempt to put forward the union of these energies and the circularity of flow between them,” he says.
This exhibition is an extension of his long-spanning art practice: exploring the constraints of time and space and the freedom upon the absence of either – a philosophy based on existential crises and narratives in a metaphysical dimension.
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“I am more interested in eastern philosophy: of an understanding starting from the self,” says the Karnataka-born artist who has won many awards including the National Award from Lalit Kala Academy in 1997 and the AIFACS award at the show ’50 years of art in independent India’.

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