I am a Yogini.
A yogini through my art.
A yogini through my yoga.
A yogini through my kriya.
A yogini in my khela.
This passage best describes the effervescent and prolific artist Seema Kohli. “A Circle of Our Own” is her recent exhibit of artworks dedicated to divine energy or Shakti. Currently displayed at the Lotus Pond in Sunder Nursery Delhi, these Chausat Yoginis created by the artist, leave the viewer enthralled. Are they works of art? Historical figurines from a long-forgotten temple? Or simply a manifestation of shakti in the form of art?
The artist launched this exhibit over the weekend, with a narrative performance at the amphitheater at Sunder Nursery. I saw her collection of sandstone sculptures, zinc etchings, wood and bronze sculptures that evening, and have subsequently seen them during the day. These works of art depicting Shakti in various forms, have a remarkable quality that makes them memorable.
I was fortunate to have been able to interview the artist personally and thoroughly enjoyed learning about the journey that brought these Chausat Yoginis alive. Read on to know more.
Q: WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO CREATE THESE YOGINIS?
SEEMA KOHLI: Shakti or divine energy has been a recurrent theme through my art work. The yoginis are simply a manifestation of the same. At first, I was hesitant to portray yoginis because of the tantric and leftist connotations given them by society. It was only after I began reading and researching on this subject that I understood their true nature- they were simply energies present in every form of nature. I wanted them to manifest as energies through my creations as well.
Q: WHEN DID YOU BEGIN WORKING ON THIS EXHIBIT?
SK: I first presented 7 sculptures in a show in 2013. They were well-received and formed the basis of the current presentation. Soon after, I began visiting various Yogini temple sites in Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, with my team members. These visits helped me to marry the traditional forms of the yoginis, with my own interpretations.
The artist during her narrative performance at the launch of the art exhibit
Q: WHAT MOST ATTRACTED YOU TO THE YOGINIS/ SHAKTI FORMS?
SK: I was first attracted to Shakti in her form as Durga sitting resplendent on a lion, at the tender age of 9. This magical, mystical form of energy is life itself and can be seen in every natural form. The goddesses and yoginis were physical forms given to this Shakti from the 9th to 12th centuries, as people felt the need to worship symbols and idols.
I personally feel that particular historic period was glorious for women, as they had an important say in every life decision. They were the supreme creators. Another interesting aspect was that women worked together in groups for every activity. Even giving birth was a communal activity for women. This is why yoginis are always found in groups and never alone.
Q: NOT MUCH IS KNOWN ABOUT THE YOGINIS IN MODERN TIMES. WHAT IS THE REASON FOR THAT?
SK: They were at the height of their popularity from the 9th to 12th centuries. However, from the 12th century onward, women began to be identified as property, and so men wanted to own them. This phase began roughly around the time of the advent of agricultural expansion. Women were seen as being akin to land, which gave rise to a patriarchal system. As women began to take on a different role in society, so did the yoginis. Their popularity suddenly diminished during this period and they began to be treated as pagan or tantric symbols of religion.
I believe we must begin a new conversation about yoginis and their mythical powers. People can hide or dismiss symbols but they cannot diminish or contain energies. Hence, the yoginis and Shakti cannot be dismissed- it is life itself.
Shakti as Kundalini
Q: “A CIRCLE OF OUR OWN” IS A UNIQUE COLLABORATION OF THE TRADITIONAL WITH THE MODERN. HOW DID YOU ACHIEVE THIS?
SK: I wanted the energies to evolve on their own through my hands. The juxtaposition of the traditional goddess forms with my figurines, is the perfect way to show that these energies are not one-dimensional and can never be represented in one simple form.
I gave them Sanskritised names to retain the historical significance. Some of the traditional yoginis had names, and I coined Sanskritic names for the other figurines so each one could maintain a separate identity.
Q: YOU HAVE NEVER RESTRICTED YOURSELF TO ONE MEDIUM OF ART. HOW DID YOU NARROW DOWN THE MATERIALS USED FOR THIS EXHIBIT?
SK: I have always enjoyed making zinc etchings, and this medium was the perfect way to begin exploring the Shakti series. Sandstone was the natural choice of stone for making sculptures, since that was the stone used traditionally. These Chausat Yoginis have been resting on my balcony for the last 4 years and have experienced natural ageing in that time. The natural ageing process coupled with the fact that I’ve used multiple stones instead of carving each from a single piece, enhances their overall effect, making them seem much older than they are.
The large wooden sculpture of Kundalini and the smaller bronze sculptures, displayed near the lotus pond, are syncretic with the overall theme.
The Lotus Pond around which the exhibit is displayed
Q: WHY DID YOU CHOOSE SUNDER NURSERY TO EXHIBIT THESE ART WORKS?
SK: It was necessary that the yoginis remain outdoors, as I believe these energies cannot and should not be contained within four walls. I was looking for an appropriate outdoor space when a dear friend suggested Sunder Nursery. Everything fell in place very quickly and I could not have hoped for a better spot for this exhibit. The Chausat Yoginis are perfectly complimented by the Mughal environs of Sunder Nursery.
Another reason for choosing a public park was to be able to take art to the masses. It has been a delight to see the reactions of so many people who walk through the exhibit while enjoying a jaunt with their families. If art is made accessible, it will certainly be appreciated.
The exhibit will be on display here for the next three months before moving to the India International Center. I have begun working on the next 64 yoginis but I will be using a different stone for that collection.
The 64 yoginis made by Seema Kohli are historic, artistic and cultural at the same time. I highly recommend visiting them while they are on display in this unique setting of Sunder Nursery.
Seema Kohli can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for private tours of the exhibit and for any other queries. I would like to thank her for personally taking time out to explain her vision to me.
Gallery Ragini presents “A Circle of Our Own” by Seema Kohli, curated by Shaunak Mahbubani
For buying and other queries, please contact email@example.com
On view at Sunder Nursery, Nizamuddin, New Delhi, till February 16, 2020 from sunrise to sunset
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