24 Jan – 05 Mar 2016
Tantra is a body of beliefs and practices that enables individuals to conjoin with something much larger than themselves—nothing short of what Tantrikas (adherents or practitioners) believe to be the ultimate forces of the universe. The tools, broadly speaking, that facilitate transcendence are omnipresently available for those who are attuned to its ways: drawings and maps, sculptures, chants, ancient rituals.
Curated by Rebecca Heald, Thinking Tantra is the first in a series of exhibitions that present a speculative history of the intersections of Tantra with art. It starts with work from the 1960s by Indian artists who either practiced Tantric rituals, were part of the Neo-Tantra movement, or appreciated Tantra as a socially relevant form of self-expression—Prabhakar Barwe, Biren De, Prafulla Mohanti, Sohan Qadri, Jagdish Swarminathan, and Acharya Vyakul. The exhibition continues with work by contemporary international artists who make a connection between Tantric artworks they have seen and experienced, predominantly drawings, and their own ways of working—Tom Chamberlain, Shezad Dawood, Nicola Durvasula, Goutam Ghosh, Alexander Gorlizki, Jean-Luc Moulène, Anthony Pearson, Prem Sahib, and Claudia Wieser.
There is a type of Tantric drawing that has been increasingly shown in the West. Thanks to its geometry and use of bright colours it has an immediacy and vibrancy that in recent times has become ‘popular’, with exhibitions in Europe and America. The symbols and patterns used in these drawings are distillations of forms which first appeared in ancient Sanskrit texts. Copied from generation to generation, over centuries, their combination of refined shapes and palette makes the drawings curiously familiar—many viewers make an instinctive link to Western abstract art. Yet the visual similarity belies a complete opposition of motives. Though abstract art in the West is often spoken of in metaphysical terms, it is predominantly aimed at enabling an individual (the artist) to find her or his place in the world, free from the collective sign system used in Tantra. Tantric art is made as a tool for meditation and for psychological rituals of complexity. Conventionally, these works are made anonymously by people who would not describe themselves as artists. Drawings are often inscribed on found paper, and they have an awesome functionality—to be used to connect with a panoply of cosmic forces, in order to visualise Ultimate Reality, or Nirvana.
Thinking Tantra at Jhaveri Contemporary is the first iteration of a project that will also manifest at the Drawing Room, London, in publication form, and in a series of interdisciplinary conversations. The works shown demonstrate the multiple and various ways in which artists, using an abundance of materials, engage with the infinite varieties of Tantric thought and practice.