by Aarti Bahl
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Shakti Maira an artist, sculptor, printmaker, philosopher and author recently exhibited his artistic journey over the last eighteen years in the form of a retrospective at Tao Gallery in Mumbai.

Shakti started his artistic journey from the City of Dreams in 1972. He returns to Mumbai with his solo retrospective show, “Subverting Duchamp, Celebrating Beauty & Reconnecting with Mumbai”. He gave me an exclusive walkthrough of his show consisting of paintings,drawings, sculptures and scrolls.

Maira begins his new phase of emotional and artistic journey on moving back to India after years of living in the West with a series of paintings called The Transitional Self (1999-2001). These large acrylic paintings depict the gradual shift of human figures entering and leaving the complex plane of life but at the same time one can sense continuity within transition.

The Pilgrims’ Path series (2000-2001) explores Maira’s spiritual journey during his stay at Rajghat near Varanasi as a result of his inquisitiveness while treading on an old pilgrims’ path along river Varuna, from Varanasi to Sarnath which led to the Ganga. These abstract paintings in earth colour give the feeling of a chaotic life with a sense of order in between. Maira made these textured paintings on canvas and paper using smooth and seasoned clay from the banks of river Ganga. Here clay merges very well like pigments with the inks focusing on the depth, pathways and passages in a pilgrim’s path.

Next came the Beej series in the form of scrolls using brocade from Varanasi on treated cloth in a traditional way. It is a dedication to potentiality, dormant flowers and tree in seeds and the energy of growth.

The Seekers (2003-2006), people in conversation and listening to the central figure, is a series of thirteen tall figures made of bronze, revealing different emotions in the spiritual journey. Maira started working on this series of sculptures before moving back to India. Sound as Form series in 2005-2006 is a set of three brightly colored paintings created by him when he got deeply involved in music. They represent the structure, harmony and flow of notes in music.

The Mirror-Inner series (2008-2009) is three-dimensional. The artist has created these art works using reflective material such as aluminium, copper, mirror, stainless steel and slate clay reminding us to see ourselves and figure out what is within us. The Sangha Heads (2011-12)are series of bronze sculptures portraying the heads of seekers on a spiritual path. The Sufis (2014-15), group of three bronze figures, imagining the suf of the Sufis, explore the idea of our inherent multiplicity and oneness. Formed Resonance (2015-17) is Shakti’s recent series of sculptures carved from a single piece of wood using hand tools and fire. These unique sculptures depict the grace of human form.

Subverting Duchamp, Celebrating Beauty, Shakti’s most recent work on canvas created especially for this show challenges the movement of Conceptualism. He questions the relationship between art, beauty and its concept by recreating Marcel Duchamp’s urinal as flowers and mandalas with floating objects of beauty. There is geometry and symmetry in spacing the urinals which is a part of mathematical structure. According to him, the deeper meaning of these artworks can be understood only by a someone who understands rhythm, harmony and creativity. This series makes us realize that emotions are very much a part of art unlike conceptual art which is more sensory.

Each series in the exhibition is distinct and reflects the profoundness of Shakti Maira’s creative and spiritual journey.


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