Sliver of hope from Art


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Category: Profiles Date: 24 Mar 02

I can picture her writing to me in her study - an enclave that leads out to the sun and moonlit, marble veranda held up with tall, white pillars encircling the house on the hill.


If she wants to stretch her legs or rest her eyes, she only has to walk a few paces to the rose garden to see the hills fall away to the wide lake of Bhopal.


Here in Bhopal my grandmother lived as a bride. It was here my brother and I returned two years back to rummage for clues of our Indian past.


Sonia, who also came here as a bride, seemed to have absorbed that old world as she led us around the colonial rooms, the garden where tendrils of bougainvillaea and vines brush against stone, where the wide Jamun tree stains the earth with its bursting purple fruit.


Sonia is my mother’s cousin, but my kindred spirit. She is a potter; an artist. Tall, slender, black hair; intense, intelligent face; eyes that absorb you in as deep as you cared to look; girlish in jeans, a beautiful, cultured Pakistani woman in Salvaar Khameez. I like her best when she looks like a chimney sweep because then she is most herself.


Artists have extra sensory pores with which they absorb, make whole and reflect life. I see my grandmother in Sonia; Sonia in my grandmother. My grandmother was an artist of sorts - a pianist (prevented by the limitations of her time from playing professionally).


More than 60 years ago, the white house on the hill, the setting of the sun, the shifting sun absorbed the rising, ascending, thundering whispering notes of her music. I can imagine her capable hands racing across the keyboard, pounding out her hearts deepest secrets. Perhaps those days were simply the brief and transient flicker of absolute grace the young, beautiful and gifted possess. Life puts out that flame too soon with its ruthless, random attrition of disappointment, loss.


Sonia’s artistic tool is fire.

On that visit, late one night, as we sat swinging our legs over the terrace, drinking lime juice, watching the moon float over the lake, she sprung up and said: “Come, come, there’s something I have to show you.”


She led us to a white, oblong building at the bottom of the garden. It was locked. She couldn’t find the key. Recently, she solved the mystery of the room in the form of photographs of her work, in clusters of black, brown and gray. Her theme was water.


The solidity of clay portraying the fluidity of water is mind-blowing.  “What do you see here?” She asked.


I saw her standing over her brick kiln firing it with one or two pieces of wood, raising the heat slowly, watching the flame rise higher and higher to 1280 ¼F. After 12 hours of this, Sonia looks like a chimney sweep, her face and hands burnt with heat and soot, physically exhausted, emotionally drained out.


From her potters wheel emerged three clusters of bowls, in black, brown and blue.

I wrote back:

The black cluster, horrific, mutilated, stripped of grace, conjures up a living hell, near death. But the one piece in this cluster tinged with silver gray with ripples opening up like petals suggests that grace can only be arrived at after the soul is dragged into the darkness, starved of water. These pieces suggest, in their convoluted state, that even darkness has its own terrible beauty.


The brown-black pieces depict the restorative power of water. The surprisingly lovely pastel daubs in these pieces are hope. Even the darkest recesses of the human spirit can be revived when watered. The contorted, browny black bowl, reaching upwards, is a miraculous testimony of the life-giving properties of water, of hope, and the bowl restored from a near-death flower.


The blue pieces are an unabated celebration of life in its various forms: Power, dignity, love, happiness and peace. Yet this cluster maintains its depth and humility. Their beauty has been nourished by endless water. White daubs showing the playfulness of the waves are a gentle reminder of man’s transience on earth against the eternal movement of the tides.


The power of the perfect royal blue jug, portraying a dignified leadership is unending, if a little removed. Its consort, a queen with perfect symmetry, and a deep clear blue centre is more rooted, rimmed in earthy brown.


The final piece, a perfect blue bowl of peace, shimmers modestly, is self-sufficient. It is not reaching out to make a statement. It is still water, with scarcely a ripple. It represents the tranquility of the human spirit, the idealised state that is arrived at only after it has gone through the gradual progression of all the shapes and colours. It is that knowledge of the darkness, and various shades of light, that permits it to be finally, happy and tranquil.


I marvel at the artists’ gifts to combine soul with clay, instrument, pen, brush, reflect the resilience of the human spirit, excavate slivers of hope.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur