Through a surreal mix of spoken word poetry, dance and music, Kohli’s multi-dimensional narrative performance called ‘In Silence, the Secrets Speak’ depicted the dynamic flux of life.Internationally recognised Delhi-based artist Seema Kohli presented a multi-dimensional narrative performance on March 22 called In Silence, the Secrets Speak. The breathtaking performance included a poetry recitation by Kohli that took place alongside a performance by Bharatnatyam dancer Lokesh Bharadwaj, and music by pianist Sahil Vasudeva. Kohli has evolved as a virtuoso over the years across the various creative domains of painting, sculpture, performance and installation art, and the show bore witness to this diversity – her two paintings (etching works) and photographs were on display as well.
Kohli has attracted global attention primarily for her exploratory and research-based work in the Fine Arts. Themes of existence, feminine subjectivity and ancient scriptures form a major part of her work. For her maiden performance in Ahmedabad, however, she explored a unique style of performance art. Dressed in black and adorning silver jewellery, she took to the stage to read out verses written by her, in a soft yet captivating baritone. She read from a long scroll of paper that twirled on the floor as she, barefoot, walked up and down the stage. Her continual movement throughout the performance suggested that a whirlwind of thoughts occupied her mind, seeming to also express the state of dynamic flux that life is in. Embodying multiple themes, her verses questioned identity, existence and the nature of reality. Lilting notes of the piano, and abstract un-choreographed dance moves by Bharadwaj, added to the experience.
One viewer was curious to know how Kohli, who is primarily known as a Fine Artist, deals with a ‘loss of control’ on her art, because performance art lacks the kind of ‘control’ that she would otherwise enjoy while creating works of Fine Art. “I am not looking to control. Why control expression? That is the whole idea of this performance,” beamed a delighted Kohli. She further added, to everyone’s amazement, that the music and dance were performed completely instinctively and spontaneously. Dancer Bharadwaj explained, “The performance was hardly informed by any practice sessions. We edited, performed and manufactured most of the art spontaneously during the presentation.” Even Kohli’s own voice modulation was not pre-planned. All this lent a wondrous, instinctive quality to the performance, perhaps highlighting the artist’s quest to understand the ever-changing, cyclical nature of life.
In addition to her emotive performance, Kohli also exhibited 64 photographs as part of the exhibition. These are snapshots of her video installation Unending Dance of Light. Shot in Varansi, the video explores the concept of death and the infinite quality of existence. “Hindu philosophy explains that bodies are as mere vessels that contain energy, and that this energy is transferred into other physical forms when the previous body perishes,” she explains the philosophy behind the work.
Two of Kohli’s life-sized paintings were also on exhibit. One of them, titled Mahavira, The Enlightened One, is a large work of etching on zinc plate that has previously been displayed at the Kochi and Venice Biennales. It is an artistic depiction of the popular legend in which the mother Trishala of Mahavira, the Jain Tirthankara, has fourteen dreams while he is in her womb. The second artwork comprises sketches in pen and pencil strokes that portray intricate human forms performing spiritual and tantric practices.
Kohli was brought to the city through the efforts of Khushboo Bagga, the founder of Art é Fair initiative. While conversing, Bagga said, “This is the first time that Ahmedabad has witnessed Seema Kohli’s surreal performance. It took us almost two years to bring her artworks and performance to the artistically growing city.” The event took place at the Benchmark Mercedes Benz showroom on March 22.
Repeatedly questioning the nature of life, Kohli’s lengthy recital led people into a journey of contemplation. A Lalit Kala Akademi award winning artist, Kohli has had more than 20 international and national solo shows, including exhibitions in Biennales in Venice, Shanghai and India, over the past 30 years. Her artworks are a part of prestigious collections at the Delhi and Mumbai Airports, the Defence Ministry, Tata Residency and Centre for Excellence.
Photographs : Himanshu Nainani
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