Channelising The Inner Shakti
Veteran artist Seema Kohli’s latest showing, What a Body Remembers, at the Tao Art Gallery, Mumbai, explores the reflective nuances of the unbridled feminine energy
The vibrant works by Seema Kohli are a reflection of the artist’s memories—the images, objects, environment and people—that have profoundly influenced her over the years. The canvases are based on the heightened state of life, which, the artist feels, we are all aspiring for. “My colours are reflective of the inner peace and joy, vibrating with the rhythm and joy of life,” avers Seema. Seema’s primary artistic concern has always been the representation of the quintessential feminine dynamism, traditionally depicted as Devi, Shakti, Yogini or Matrika. Seema’s works challenge this chaotic matrix—the dance of feminine energies—and convey within that a unique tranquillity. For her, this Shakti is not just spiritual, but also embodies belief, knowledge or even inner conviction. In the new body of works, Seema remains committed to the idea of feminine energies and questions the importance to represent them. “My paintings are narratives of women at some level, their lives, their vulnerabilities, and also, most significantly, their strength. When they populate my paintings, one can see the expression of the power of the feminine collective, of women coming together to overcome the evil that confronts them. In these stories, I also discern my own space as a woman in the larger world outside,” she says. The 35 zinc plate etchings on paper are titled Memoirs. These are a collection of works done by the artist over a period of several years. They are influenced by her memories of the images, objects, environment and people which have had a deep impact on her personality. Art happened to Seema early on in life. Having studied applied art at South Delhi Polytechnic after graduating in Philosophy from Miranda House, Seema honed her skills at the Triveni Kala Sangam under the guidance of Rameshwar Broota for more than 10 years. For someone rooted in spirituality and the fine aesthetics of art, Seema acknowledges the fact that the changes in the world, like the emergence of technology, has changed the way art is perceived today. “The digital medium is the new way of conceptualising and rendering art. But, each medium has its influences. I have not been able to work with the digital medium other than in videos till now,” she states, adding that her hand has been her gadget, and her mind, her data bank. Seema is one of the few artists who has managed to draw a clean line between commerce and creative ethics. Though she agrees that all markets are commerce driven, she insists that art happens in the precincts of an artist’s
studio and hence for an artist, it is a biological need to create. “The moment it (the creation) reaches a gallery, it gains commercial value. So, commerce does not affect me as an artist directly,” says Seema, naming life itself her inspiration. The intangibles around her—the people, nature, inspire Seema. “You just have to be silent within all the chores of daily life for it to reflect in your work,” she says philosophically. A spiritual person at heart, Seema is a believer in the permanence of the spirit. “For me, first there was faith, then belief in that faith. Reassurance of faith within a group becomes religion, which results in the show of strength by politicising it. Spirit doesn’t need any of this. Just belief is enough,” she reasons. Meanwhile, the consummate artist is a firm believer in the philosophy that everything emerged from the feminine and that the celebration of life itself is feminine. “Of course, there is a balance of energies, there is a role of both the genders in the creation
of the universe and the life around us at every level,” she reasons, citing examples of how Yin and Yang, positive and negative, male and female exist together. A feminist at heart, Seema professes a new era of feminism—of believing in yourself as a woman for the sake of it, and not necessarily as a means of competition with the other sex. She exhorts women to recognise their inner power and exert oneself as women. She shares an excerpt from one of her narratives: In Silence the Secrets Speak ‘Celebrate... for all those women who have a voice and who do not have one, for they understood the silence... celebrate.... for all those women who walk the untrodden path... true or false... moral or immoral good or bad for what is for one is not for another... celebrate... for all those women exploring, unearthing, in the rhythm to the smile and laughter of their soul celebrate... to being a woman not only in body but in soul.’ Interestingly, this narrative will form a part of a layered stage performance recounted by the artist at the Royal Opera House, Mumbai, in the coming month. The riveting show will entail a poetry/spoken word performance woven together with a dance piece and accompanied with an ensemble of artists on the piano, cello and the violin.
Seema with Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar, who inaugurated her show