Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Threads that Connect

Threads that Connect watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015 

I was attracted to the orange cloth glowing in the sunlight and all the shadow play I encountered at the top of the Chamundi Hill (Mysuru) near temple premises.  There were a few others who were also selling these threads(Mauli) but only one was in the traditional sacred orange clothing and working diligently organizing his threads of different colors. Each color sacred thread has significance of its own in Hinduism. They are usually tied to right wrist (usually for both genders) or left(certain occasions for women) to ward off evil eye or for prosperity and good health and for smooth completion or progression of any important ceremony.  The threads are used during pooja by the devotees, by bride and groom during wedding, and for "rakhi bandan' by sister on brother's wrist  as a talisman - for protection and well being. The threads tether us to other humans, to the sacred spirits; to the yearning for a universal connection. 

In my research I discovered that this custom is followed by others as well - around the globe, across cultures and religions: From wikipedia : Wearing a thin scarlet or crimson string (Hebrew: חוט השני) as a type of talisman is a Jewish folk custom as a way to ward off misfortune brought about by the "evil eye" (Hebrew: עין הרע). The tradition is popularly thought to be associated with Kabbalah and religious forms of Judaism.

More interesting information from Sean Doyle's article on Sacred Thread

"Throughout Indian history the exchange of a thin cotton, wool or silk thread tied kingdoms together and sealed political alliances.  In one recount of the Battle of the Hydaspes River, it is said that the King Porus refrained from striking Alexander the Great, because the Alexander’s wife had tied a scared thread to Porus’ hand, urging him not to hurt her husband.

A scarlet or red thread runs through many cultures.

The red string of fate or the thread of destiny appears in both Chinese and Japanese legends. According to myth, the gods tie an invisible red string around the ankles of those that are destined to meet each other or help each other in a certain way.  In one myth, two people connected by the red thread are destined to be lovers, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The cord may stretch or tangle across the years, but it will never break.

In traditional Tibetan Buddhist ceremonies, the tying on of holy cotton threads restores the natural order of things and brings people closer together. The red thread is specifically associated with bravery.

And this sacred tie is not limited to East Asia.

In Greek mythology, Theseus rescued himself out from the labyrinth of the Minotaur by following a red thread that was given to him by Ariadne.  Nikos Kazantzakis, in making myths modern again, points to the scarlet tread that runs through and connects all people, friends and strangers, regardless of culture.  It is our common humanity.

In Judaism, wearing a thin red string on the left wrist is an old custom thought to ward off misfortune brought about by the “evil eye”.  Rahab tied scarlet rope to two scouts so they could enter Jericho unseen.  Jabob’s wife Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, wrapped a red thread around her son’s wrist to protect him from evil.  Still today, we tie a long red string around her burial stone.  This sacred symbol recalls Rachel’s selflessness, reminding us to emulate her modest ways of consideration and compassion for others, while giving charity to the poor and needy.  More than a way to protect one from evil or harm, the crimson thread is an internal reflection that inspires good deeds and kindness."

Measuring and Selling 5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Water Break

Water Break watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015 

Selling fresh betel leaves directly to the customers at the street market, this lady seems to have a good business sense for displaying her goods and controlling her expenses. All she needed was a small blue stool to sit on and a big basket  of fresh leaves stacked in neat piles! Behind her were clay pots balanced carefully and the rickety table held small clay pots etc. The Betel leaves are important in Hindu religious ceremonies, a main ingredient in 'pan' for chewing pleasure, and also used for medicinal purposes. So the business is usually brisk for leaves and the pots as it’s much simpler to stop by a stand while commuting to work or running errands than to plan a special trip to the store.   

Water Break  5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Textures and Colors of Life

Textures and Colors of Life watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015 

A side alley with a bicycle; the buildings, walls, doors - all textured with neglect; colorful water pots waiting to be filled were hard to ignore!  Sketching, painting and photographing almost everyday when I was India, was a valuable experience. I developed a curiosity and great respect about my surroundings and learned to savor life. 

I was torn about just recording the scenes I come across,  but I also felt an urge to capture the fast disappearing lifestyle as India is hurling itself towards things more 'modern'.  I also found myself attracted to the special beauty in the simple surroundings --always colorful and full of textures. I know my sketches and paintings only give a glimpse of the country showing an extremely incomplete picture. 

Last week when I went to the preview of the opening exhibit of the brand new MET Breuer Museum in New York, I was struck by how architecture and surroundings influence an artist. Drawings and photographs by Nasreen Mohamedi, captured the geometry and abstraction from her surroundings. She saw only the beauty of lines and minimal color! 

It was also wonderful to see the 'Unfinished - thoughts left Visible.' on its third and fourth floors - unfinished paintings of artists over the past few centuries. I was excited as if I was peeking over their shoulders while they had paused and were mulling over the next brush stroke.

From the museum's website: Celebrating one of the most important artists to emerge in post-Independence India, and marking the first museum retrospective of the artist’s work in the United States, Nasreen Mohamedi examines the career of an artist whose singular and sustained engagement with abstraction adds a rich layer to the history of South Asian art and to modernism on an international level. The retrospective spans the entire career of Mohamedi (1937–1990)—from her early works in the 1960s through her late works on paper in the 1980s—exploring the conceptual complexity and visual subtlety that made her work unique for its time, and demonstrating why she is considered one of the most significant artists of her generation. Together with the thematic exhibition Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, Nasreen Mohamedi inaugurates The Met Breuer, which expands upon The Met’s modern and contemporary art program.

Here are Google images for Nasreen Mohamadi's art 
Check out the NYT review of Unfinished here 

Textures and Colors of Life 5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Dance of Life

She Moved Like A Dancer watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015 

She was a vegetable vendor.  Everyday she sat by the roadside with a few crates of produce. She always dressed in simple though beautiful sarees with matching stylish blouses, bangles,  flowers in her hair, and eyes rimmed with kohl. She also had a ready smile for her customers.  This particular evening she was moving her crates to a storage area near by before calling it a day.  As she lifted and carried her crates she moved like a dancer, light bouncing off the folds of her saree, face and body. I was captivated by the beauty and grace of her movements.    

"I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way 
- things I had no words for. "
~Georgia O'Keeffe~

She Moved Like a Dancer 5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Neighborhood Klatsch

Neighborhood Klatsch  watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015 

Most afternoons, these three neighbors sat on the varandah chatting away while waiting for their children to return from school. I could watch them from my balcony but could not hear their conversation.  They were always glad to see each other and have their thirty or so minutes together. I wonder if they noticed me and what they said to each other :)  

Neighborhood Klatsch 5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal
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