In search of paradise

Sohini Dhar’s “Silence, the mystic birthplace of the soul” ~ Sri Aurobindo, reiterates that changing tastes and trends haven’t eclipsed the landscape as a genre.

It would take unforeseen shifts in civilizational thinking for the landscape — or Nature in some form — to retire from art, all its metaphorical inflections exhausted. Sohini Dhar’s online show, “Silence, the mystic birthplace of the soul” ~ Sri Aurobindo, presented by Ganges Art Gallery till April 24, reiterates that changing tastes and trends haven’t eclipsed the landscape as a genre. Maybe early man’s yearning for an idyll — the fantasy of Eden beyond which life could be nasty, brutish and short — has now taken on a dystopian narrative of survival. Of the earth itself.

Dhar has, of course, been a steadfast Nature loyalist. The idyll evoked is what she terms a “spiritual ecology”; it goes beyond rational analysis and, yes, beyond Wordsworthian morality: Nature transcends values man imbues it with. For Dhar, imaginative leaps subsume empirical observations recorded en plein air. She’s obviously imbibed the East Asian and Indian miniature traditions in treating landscapes as the poetic reflection of sensibility rather than the precise rendering of what’s seen that Kenneth Clark calls the landscape of fact. She also follows the practice of covering the borders in some works, common in miniatures and patachitras. And when clouds and floral patterns float across the margins to signal continuity beyond the focus of the image, Tibetan thangkas are recalled.

The artist arranges quaintly stylized motifs along a vertical space in pensive or animated groupings, sometimes in a strictly balanced order. Hills, leaves, trees that sprout closely wrapped overhead canopies, and dainty drops of rain from curlicues of clouds represent her captivating mixed media palette where a velvety midnight blue of dense silence is the counterpoint to moss green in a few tremulously contemplative works. Red, orange, yellow and touches of gold lend a celebratory note elsewhere. White, in little dashes or strokes, plays a critical role in throwing the other colours into relief. But at times an ashen grey takes over as an unpredictable wildness hijacks human attempts at an ideal design. As in Untitled II, where an unsettling premonition is suggested.

Is any paradise immune from anxiety anymore?