Thursday, December 30, 2010

Universal Acceptance

At the Art Institute of Chicago, digital Photography by Meera Rao

Newly opened in May 1893 as the Permanent Art Palace, now known as the Art Institute Chicago was used as the World's Congress during 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. The World Parliament of Religions opened on September 11, 1893 with Swami Vivekananda from India giving one of the inaugural addresses in the Hall of Columbus. In the next two weeks Swami Vivekananda drew the largest crowds of the World Congress 's meetings.  108 years later, on September 11, 2001 another key historical moment shook the world.  Jitish Kallat's Public Notice 3  a site specific installation at the Art Institute of Chicago connects the two historical events.  The Art Institute web site explains : With Public Notice 3, Kallat converts Vivekananda’s text to LED displays on each of the 118 risers of the historic Woman’s Board Grand Staircase of the Art Institute of Chicago, adjacent to the site of Vivekananda’s original address. Drawing attention to the great chasm between this speech of tolerance and the very different events of September 11, 2001, the text of the speech will be displayed in the colors of the United States’ Department of Homeland Security alert system. Opening on September 11, Public Notice 3 explores the possibility of revisiting the historical speech as a site of contemplation, symbolically refracting it with threat codes devised by a government to deal with this terror-infected era of religious factionalism and fanaticism. 

I shot the photograph above showing the staircase as I walked away  from it towards the Asian Gallaries -- I loved how the words and statues of Buddha reflected on the glass doors.  Below is Swami Vivekananda's speech that Jitish Kallat converted to LED display on the stairs: 

Sisters and Brothers of America,
It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions, and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.
My thanks, also, to some of the speakers on this platform who, referring to the delegates from the Orient, have told you that these men from far-off nations may well claim the honor of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration. I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: "As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee."
The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me." Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

I pray for  peace, tolerance and universal acceptance in 2011 and beyond.  Happy New Year !

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Home For the Holidays

Home For the Holidays  watercolor on Yupo 14x11"

And the rug was vacuumed just in time :) Our suitcases all have a red ribbon to make it easy to identify them.  So, for me it is really very appropriate: any time we go home to India to visit our family there, return from India to our home here and when our kids come home - thats all a  precious gift!  This holiday season I wish everyone a happy, healthy, prosperous and peace filled times with your family and friends! 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Grand Spaces

Sketches from a lunch time concert in Chicago
 The Tiffany Dome at Chicago cultural Center
Chicago Cultural Center interior

I had ducked into the Chicago Cultural Center to warm myself up on my way to the Chicago Art Institute from my hotel on that bitterly cold morning last month but ended up spending most of the day there exploring the art that hung in the galleries and corridors and stayed on to listen to a lunch time concert of Jazz songs. The impressive building completed in 1897 was originally the public library as well as a memorial to Civil War Union Army Veterans. The rare imported marbles, polished brass, gorgeous hardwoods, and sparkling mosaics of Favrile glass, mother of pearl, gold leaf, and colored precious stones bring to mind palaces but themes relating to books, printing and authors in various vast light filled spacious rooms remind you that this was really built as a temple of knowledge! I was also dazzled by the third floor - most dramatic place with walls covered by sparkling mosaics and topped with the world's largest  Tiffany Dome of 30,000 pieces of glass! 

The exhibits that were showcased there for December were impressive too. Polaridad Complementaria: Recent works from Cuba had cutting edge paintings, drawings, sculptures, video etc from Cuba's contemporary artscene. Another exhibit by Chicago artist  Jeff Zimmermann : God particle   was large scale murals of pop culture and dramatic portraits. The artist had spent a month publicly painting the murals on the walls of the Gallery!   

It doesn't take much for me to plunge into existential angst about my art and after seeing all the creativity there I had a hard time opening my sketch book but I did and filled a few pages with my humble drawings.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Science, Math and Art

Mirror #10 Sketch Mirror
 Snow Mirror 2006 
Darwinian Straw Mirror 2010
Each of the above photograph is my portrait -amazing interactive imagery with custom software, video camera projector and silk screen courtesy of    "Contrast: Interactive Work by Daniel Rozin"  - an installation at the Chrysler Museum of Art at Norfolk, VA.   The museum web site explains : "Daniel Rozin's work combines art, technology — and the viewer — to create a distinctive artistic experience. Though computers and machinery play a key role in his digital interactive installations, the science behind the work is seldom visible. The idea is to create works that not only incorporate change and movement, but that also respond to viewers in real time. Thanks to the use of video projection and sophisticated programming, visitors can become part of the art, or the art can change based on the movements or perspective of the viewer. Part sculpture, part mirror, part screen, his works often defy easy categorization,"  It was truly a surreal experience to see my image emerge, change, and dissolve and emerge again as I moved about.  And there was so much laughter, excitement and child like sheer pleasure at the gallery  as each of us -viewers- discovered we were the ones creating 'art' in there :) 

Speaking of science and math and art, two days ago I watched a Nova program on PBS on Fractals and once again mesmerized by the beauty in math, science and nature.  I have been googling Fractals to learn more about it - I had come across it a few years ago and continue to be fascinated by the phenomenon and the designs they create :)

And one more link : check out some wonderful quirky artsy math doodling of Vi Hart and explore her website.

So, naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.
—Jonathan Swift, from "On Poetry: A Rhapsody"

Monday, December 13, 2010

Drawing on the Go

view from the bus pencil sketch 
Foot-rest   pencil sketch 
Sleeping Passenger pencil sketch
Trips - planned as well as unexpected ones left me with not much time to paint. I managed a few sketches here and there. I sketched a few sleeping passengers on train and on planes -but, was excited when I found an empty seat right behind the driver on my way back home! Finally a different view to  draw :) Other than the cars on the road and the wind shield wiper, things stayed the same long enough for me to put it down on the paper. The sketch looks darker on the right hand corner because of the creases caused when I tried to rescue the small sketch book that was slipping off my lap as the bus bounced along!  The lady in the next row shook her shoes off and kept her feet on her suitcase just long enough for me to draw them. I am pleased that I found some different things to sketch this time. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Negative Drawing

sketch of a sculpture;  white prismacolor pencil on black paper

In the sculpture galleries at the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk,  I came across a drawing station that had a supply of black paper on a clip boards, a box full of white prismacolor pencils and an open invitation to draw the the sculptures.  I couldn't resist it. So here is my rendition of Little Peasant or First Grief   a sculpture by Erastus Dow Palmer (1817-1904). I loved the beautiful girl and the haunting expression on her face.  I was curious as to why the sculpture was titled First Grief and research revealed that : This statue, also known as Little Peasant, depicts an incident in the life of one of the sculptor's daughters, who had avidly followed the hatching and rearing of a nest of birds, only to be overcome with grief when the fledglings departed. Palmer, who was self-taught, was among the first American sculptors to break with the prevailing neoclassical style and adopt a more naturalistic approach.  Here is an article on the Erastus Dow Palmer that appeared in New York Times in 1896 when he was seventy nine years old. 

It was pretty challenging to draw with white pencil on black paper and I had to make a conscious effort to reverse the normal way of drawing, remembering to draw the light and highlights and leave the shadow areas black :) I enjoyed the impromptu exercise very much and  hope to go back and sketch more of the sculptures.
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