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'Kalika', Neo-Tantric painting by Prafulla Mohanti, based on the bindu principle, 1974
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Height: 75 centimetres
Width: 55 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Text from Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution (I. Ramos), draft of a manuscript accompanying an exhibition with the same title planned for G35, Spring 2020:
Before and after India achieved independence from British rule in 1947, artists moved away from the Eurocentric style taught at many colonial government art schools. Instead they sought to forge modern, national styles influenced by the South Asian art of the past to reassert and forge a new aesthetic identity. Some were inspired by the counter-cultural elements of Tantra relating to social inclusivity and personal freedom. They were particularly influenced by the Delhi-based art historian and curator Ajit Mookerjee, who owned a vast collection of sculptures, paintings and ritual objects which he classified as ‘Tantra art’ and which he published on in 1966 (Tantra Art: Its Philosophy and Physics), emphasising their philosophical content and aiming to reclaim Tantra from its popular associations with sexual hedonism and black magic.
Many artists turned to Mookerjee’s book for source material, adopting the symbols associated with Tantric material culture and adapting them to speak to the abstract visual language of global modernism, particularly the Abstract Expressionist movement in the United States, characterised by its non-representational, often gestural approach to painting that sought to channel the unconscious.
The works of Mahirwan Mamtani (b.1935) and Prafulla Mohanti (b. 1936) reveal the inspiration they took from the iconic concentric shapes of mandalas and yantras, framing luminous central deities. This centre point is also referred to as the bindu and understood as a symbol of the cosmos and as an expression of cosmic creation.
Mohanti uses colour to suggest the light and energy emanating from the centre of his compositions. As Mookerjee described it, drawing parallels with contemporary physics, ‘All creation, according to Tantra, is preceded by a focal tension, which is the centre of every creation (…). The microcosm of bindu illustrates the vital impetus in all things to multiply and reproduce. (…) physicists now generally believe that all creation of matter proceeds from one fundamental substance.’
This painting by Mohanti, based on the bindu principle, is typical of the artist’s oeuvre, made up of concentric oval shapes in different shades. This particular example invokes the goddess Kali (or Kalika). Born in Nanpur village in Orissa, Mohanti described the origin of the recurring bindu motif: ‘[As a child], while drawing the circles and chanting the sacred names I was inviting the divine energies to come and live in them. As I looked around the village I saw the presence of the divine energy everywhere, in people and in the landscape. The circle became the Bindu, the red vermillion spot on my mother’s forehead which glowed like the rising sun.’
- On display (G35)
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