Monday, March 07, 2016

Being And Nothingness

The New York-based artist Jayanthi Moorthy, at her first solo exhibition in Kochi, focuses on loneliness as well as the need to be part of a community

Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram

By Shevlin Sebastian

The New York-based artist Jayanthi Moorthy felt her heart thud against her rib cage. On the morning of October 27, 2012, Hurricane Sandy had hit with devastating force, bringing in its wake fierce winds and rain. Jayanthi immediately wondered whether her 12 ft. high painting, 'Wisdom', which was part of an outdoor installation, at The Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, in Staten island, would survive.

But survive, it did. Three-and-a-half years later, at the OED Gallery at Mattancherry, Jayanthi looks up at the work, hanging on the wall, and says, with a smile, “It was amazing the way the canvas withstood the hurricane. Knowing that it would be outdoors, I had put several coatings of paint.”

Indeed, the work, 'Wisdom', looks as good as new. It shows a nude man and woman, placing their hands around each other’s waist. “When there is limitless love between two people, it is then that you understand the wisdom of being together,” she says.

Jayanthi's first exhibition in India (February 13-26) is called 'Together Alone'. And there was a reason behind the title. “Whenever I would come to India I wanted to be part of a community,” she says. “But after a while, I felt a yearning for solitude. I see this mixed reaction with a lot of people.”

This aspect can be seen in a striking work which has 12 small canvases. On one is written, 'Me' and on the other is 'You'. It is placed in the shape of a Y on the wall. So the 'Me' and 'You' start from far away and intersect at the bottom. “Two strangers meet and then sparks fly and they end up being together,” says Jayanthi. “At the same time, if you look from the bottom upwards, they can also end up going away from each other.”

In another work, a faceless woman, in a red saree and purple blouse, is making a garland of flowers. This garland is real and sticks out from the painting. All across the painting is the Sanskrit sentence: 'Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana (Work is worship)'.

Three years ago, Jayanthi had seen several women making garlands in a market in Chennai. “Something about the activity was so beautiful,” she says. “They were smiling, while doing their work. Sometimes, people get themselves into a routine to be free from thought. On the other hand, when you do routine work, it makes you calmer and fulfilled. It could be a meditative experience.”

What is unusual about Jayanthi's works are the threads of paint that run through the canvas. This has happened because of her unique method of painting. She puts paint in cones of plastic paper, and squeezes it out. Thereafter, she uses her hand, instead of a brush, to draw the image. As a result, the paint looks like single threads. “I am obsessed with lines,” she says.

As for the lines in Jayanthi's life it runs like this: born in Kolkata, she grew up in Kochi. After her graduation, in commerce, she moved to Chennai where she worked for several years in design, animation and digital media. Then, in 2004, she met Sri Kaushik, a New-York based professional, fell in love, got married, and moved to the United States. And it was while there that she became a full-time artist.

Meanwhile, at Mattancherry, people were enjoying the interactive installation, ‘What is your worst fear?’

On the floor, Jayanthi has done a drawing, of lines, in black and white, using charcoal and rice flour. “Black represents darkness while white is the light,” she says. In the middle is a circle of unlit terracotta lamps. “These black lamps, found in temples, can contain your fears,” she says. “And when you light them, your distress is overcome.”

Next to the work is a wooden box, where you can write your worst fear on a piece of paper, fold it, and slide it through a narrow opening. Later, these worries are projected on the ground, as sentences, which move from one side to the other. The fears include, ‘Not being interesting’, ‘being lonely’, ‘losing a loved one’, ‘taking risks’ and ‘the human capacity for cruelty.’ 

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