NS Harsha's work, 'Punarapi Jananam, Punarapi Maranam' (Again Birth, Again Death), at the Kochi Muziris Biennale, gives an unforgettable view of the solar system
Photos by Ratheesh Sundaram
When the London-based art curator, Vanessa Branson, the sister of billionaire businessman Richard Branson, enters the large hall, at the Aspinwall House, at Fort Kochi, her eyes widen, followed by a parting of her lips. “It is a remarkable work,” she says. “When we look closer there are beautiful details that lets your imagination float with the planets and the stars."
This acrylic on canvas, at the Kochi Muziris Biennale, is 79 feet in length, and 12 feet in height. It is called 'Punarapi Jananam, Punarapi Maranam' (Again Birth, Again Death). These lines have been taken from the hymn, 'Bhaja Govindam', written by the great religious philosopher Adi Sankara.
It is a view of the cosmos in the form of an infinite loop. For inspiration, the artist NS Harsha had researched many images from the website of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the USA, as well as the Internet.
But it was not an easy work to do. Since the scale was so large, Harsha had to abandon the paint brush. Instead, he took an old bedsheet, from his house, tore a part of it, folded it, and put stones in it. Then he beat it on the ground to create a ragged edge.
Then Harsha dipped the brush, attached to a bamboo pole, into a large bucket of black paint. With the help of a few artist friends, he began putting the paint on the canvas.
Even as Harsha experienced joy while doing this, his mother got a shock to find that her cherished 40-year-old bedsheet had been ruined. A shocked Harsha told her, “I did not realise that it was so old and valuable.”
Eventually, it took Harsha one-and-a-half months to complete the work. “This is a painted reality of its own about space,” he says. “Yes, it is true, I have been inspired by the cosmos for a long time.”
This is confirmed by the Japanese curator, Mami Kataoka, of the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, who is working with Harsha to set up a solo exhibition of his works. “There are many images of eternity in Harsha's childhood drawings,” she says.
But his obsession has increased lately. For the past one-and-a-half years, all his paintings have an upward movement. “It is about the human wish to have a relationship with space,” says Harsha.
As for his relationship with art, it began when Harsha did his bachelor's in painting from the Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Arts at Mysore. This was followed by his Masters at the Faculty of Fine Arts at MS University, Baroda.
“It was one of the most intense periods of my life,” he says. “I was trying to figure out the idea of art in my life. One of the key things Baroda taught me was that ambition, success or failure has no place in art.”
Nevertheless, Harsha is a successful artist, with an international reputation. He has taken part in Biennales at Osaka, Moscow, Yogyakarta (Indonesia), Sharjah, Singapore and Sao Paulo. His works have also been displayed in Australia, China, Venice, Taipei, Belgium, Spain, and several other European countries. Upcoming shows will be held in London, Tokyo, Dallas and Mumbai.
Asked about the rising intolerance in Indian society towards art and culture, Harsha says, “These attacks – on thinkers, cultural personalities and artistes – are nothing new. There are many similar instances in history. I believe art reworks traditional symbols. Hence, it infuriates people who use these symbols to uphold power. So they resort to physical violence against the artiste. But in the long run their actions are futile. Creative minds have always been innovative and are able to find new forms and voices to highlight the truth.”
(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)