Sacred Made Real

Works by Aslam Shaikh
19th August 2010

The discovery of an artist is an experience that is exciting and enthralling. Aslam Shaikh belongs to that legion of a chapter that will unveil many things in the days to come. In my years of collecting that began with the auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in London and New York more than two decades ago, I realized that collecting was more than just a passion. It was an art sojourn that grew and matured in the seasoning of one’s own eye.

Three years ago, it was his exhibition in Dubai and later London that drew me to Aslam Shaikh. Many meetings later we talked and discussed and finally came to the phenomenal creation of ‘Sacred Made Real’ - a series of works that captured the inner rhythms and the spiritual realms of Kerala’s ritual arts and the earthly existence of its gorgeous elephants.

Oils and sketches and many moons later this show which has been crafted with an exciting flow and spiritedness will unravel many things. It will unravel Kerala like never

before and also unleash the potential and vivacity of Aslam Shaikh’s prowess as an artist of great merit and materiality in terms of the expression of his own identity and felicity with contour and colour.

The Kathakali dancers of Kerala the ritual arts, the mask that is art and the revitalizing spectre of the performance of tales of yore-this show contributes the colours the scent of verdant vegetation and the tangy sharpness of the winds that weave a tale. I hope you will be as replete and fulfilled as I was when I saw these works together. Enjoy the mystique and the mystery of Kerala brought alive by Aslam Shaikh.

Nina Pillai
(Chairman)

From the masks of the Gods, to the vitality of the Pulikalli, and the magic of the Kudiyattam, Kerala’s performing arts the narrative of expression is what stands out in the works of Aslam Shaikh. The Kathakali dancer set in the horizontal perspective with a hand held aloft speaks of the fostering of the evolution of performing traditions as well as the poignancy of gesture and the power of poise.

It was the palaces and the temples that were the patrons of such practices and musical theatre was a form of worship, a medium for spreading the message blending the dramatic with the subtle, the masculine with the feminine.

The scarlet and the Prussian blue Kathakali dancers cast a spell of dramatic intensity and flourish, they speak of a cast rich in minor and major dvinities, of kings and warriors and sages of yore. The exotic make up-the costumes and the exaggerated motions of eyes and movements become like the prism of time that stands still.

Aslam’s Kudiyattam work brings back the notes of the dance of antiquity. The folk remnant of ancient times-a highly evolved form of Koothu is historic because it is among the only performing art forms in Kerala that allows the participation of women. Introduced by the temple culture, this work reflects the mesmeric stance of presentation. The colours and contours become a theme of an extravagant heritage, born of myths and many splendoured tales.

Any performing art form in Kerala is an extravaganza of colour, and most Malayali festivals date back to the times of the rich Dravidian culture-the tradition of bedecking the elephant with gorgeous gold ornamentation and the Devi atop, is a sight to behold. Every ritual and art form was all created with the resultant magnitude of worship. Aslam brings all of them together along with the drummers who beat the chenda-a special temple drum. Most festivals feature spectacular elephant processions. The tuskers can be seen in their caparisoned resplendence during the festivals of Pooram and Vela. Here are a collection of tuskers, with and without their festoons.

The group of pachyderms jostling each other is a great work that encompasses the beauty of animal behaviour.The verdant green of lush Tropicana seems to have touched the elephants and you sense a queer signal of the power of company and the language of intelligent beasts. The elephants here seem to look as exotic, valuable and magnificent and the depiction of this elephant with its pack in the forest is therefore a very appropriate symbol which offers a subtle compliment to humans who ruled over a peaceful empire of land and preserved the flora and fauna of the reigon as a legacy.

Elements of the temple town of Trichur and other places appear in some works. The most striking rooftop is that of the Vaikom temple- the finest of its kind. In the large panoramic work this immense roof is seen, it has a steep copper roof with three finials. This is where the captivating Kudiyattam and the Koothu are traditionally performed. Aslam gives us in the monochromatic tone a cinematic epoch of an era. He lines a few architectural elements with acoustic aesthetics.

The presence of the Heramba Ganesha – five headed Gannapati on the tiger serves to heighten the importance of the central figure. The structure of the tiger accentuates the monumental character of the Ganesha which appears with its five tusks while surrealistic juxtaposition and displacement of associated symbols heightens the power of his pictorial world. Aslam frequently invests the God form with an archaic and timeless feeling. He depicts it as if abstracted from time and renders it, along with the signs and symbols, into an equation who’s other, unknown elements must for all time exist outside the frame of the painting.

In another work of the elephants and the musicians the nature of masculine yet sensual reality is transformed. In the final analysis man and animal and music are made abstract, viewed as an element within the equation, instrumentation for seeking an established identity.

Interesting also how Aslam uses and divides space into various planes of colour which are linked together with a central motif that extends into all the areas. ‘The elephants, the women and the men who traverse his canvasses belong to coloured facets and divisions and very often these belong to the same tonal group, their juxtaposition is entirely for their aesthetic effect. For example the bronze yellow Ganesha with the chrome yellow tiger rendered in tones of umber, in the deepest areas the colours used for the men and women are a rich tapestry of intent. Aslam has the ability to transfer the elements of centuries past into a contemporary context.

The works of Aslam Shaikh plunge us into the land of the devotees and the art of worship. What unravels is the mosaic of complex and paradoxical society, drawn on between the demands of a stringently ahered to tradition and the attractions of modernity that is indeed chaotic. Aslam’s works have thoroughness and a sensibility characteristic of an artist who feels, emotes and invites his viewers to participate in his experiences.

Take the panoramic Sacred Made Real work that becomes a spectacle of sorts. Perhaps most representative of this universe, which in four stages illustrate the cycle of the universe and humanity with an unparalleled vivacity. Originally meant to be viewed in its stylistic elements it prompts curiosity as to what the implications of a unique history signifies . Stretched before your eyes in a symbolic panorama, this work is breathtaking in its ability to transport you to a hidden corner of one part of Kerala, deep inside the wilderness of the mind touched with magic and infinite possibilities.

The viewer is said to be an audience –an observer, who breezes through worlds at his or her own accord, in such a way as to encourage examining present reality with alternate sensitivity. When brought before Sacred Made Real, the context of a ritual seems an expected setting for music and dance and the narrative activity to take place. For centuries mythology and folklore has marked the forests as a place where Gods, Goddesses and mystical creatures have said to exist in conjunction with the material world outside. It is equally a place of nourishment and energy in both the scientific characterization of oxygen and refuge for animals like the elephants who are revered in Kerala. Additionally, it is a mystical place of tranquility and spiritual awakening. It is within this landscape that Aslam has interjected graceful women and men and tuskers euphorically dancing to a spiritual tune, guided by the powerful drums and the lamp that is lit.

There are in these canvasses and sketches the fire of a certain grace. A grace that wants to spread a message of the importance of the ritual, a shared viewpoint of a complex choreography. Inevitably when the ‘Sacred Becomes Real’ we are seduced by the experience which draws us .This show is about the secret domain of the sacred and the profane, where the spiritual and earthly worlds are unified and we can decide between being man or God.

Uma Nair

 

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