Thinking Tantra Curated by Rebecca Heald 24 January – 05 March 2016 Tantra is a body of beliefs and practices that enables individuals to conjoin with something much larger than themselves—nothing short of cosmic forces. Tools (in the broadest sense) that facilitate transcendence are omnipresent for those who are attuned: rituals, drawings, maps, sculptures, and chants, to name just a few. Thinking Tantra is the first in a series of exhibitions that present a speculative history of the intersections of Tantra with art. It starts with work from the 1960s by Indian artists who either practiced Tantric rituals, were part of the Neo-Tantra movement, or appreciated Tantra as a socially relevant form of self-expression—Prabhakar Barwe, Biren De, Prafulla Mohanti, Sohan Qadri, Jagdish Swaminathan, and Acharya Vyakul. The exhibition continues with work by contemporary international artists who make a connection between Tantric artworks they have seen and experienced, predominantly drawings, and their own ways of working—Tom Chamberlain, Shezad Dawood, Goutam Ghosh, Alexander Gorlizki, Jean-Luc Moulene, Anthony Pearson, Prem Sahib, and Claudia Wieser. There is a type of Tantric drawing that has been increasingly shown in the West. Thanks to its geometry and use of bright colours it has an immediacy and vibrancy that in recent times has become popular, with exhibitions in Europe and America. The symbols and patterns used in these drawings are distillations of forms which first appeared in ancient Sanskrit texts. Copied from generation to generation, over centuries, their combination of refined shapes and palette makes the drawings curiously familiar, leading many viewers to make an instinctive link to Western abstract art. Yet the visual similarity belies a complete opposition of motives. Though abstract art in the West is often spoken of in metaphysical terms, it is predominantly aimed at enabling an individual (the artist) to find her or his place in the world, free from the collective sign system used in Tantra. Tantric art is made as a tool for meditation and for psychological rituals of elaborate complexity. Conventionally, these works are made anonymously by people who would not describe themselves as artists. Drawings are often inscribed on found paper, and they have an awesome functionality—to be used to connect with a panoply of cosmic forces, in order to visualise Ultimate Reality, or Nirvan. A series of short insights into the works included in Thinking Tantra is presented below. They demonstrate the multiple and various ways in which artists engage with a rich variety of ideas and an abundance of materials. Thinking Tantra at Jhaveri Contemporary is the first iteration of a project that will also manifest at the Drawing Room, London, in publication form, and in a series of interdisciplinary conversations.
Nicola Durvasula Originally from the UK, Durvasula lived in India for a decade. Though her method of working is different from Tantrikas (practitioners of Tantra), nevertheless, as the scholar Francesca Fremantle suggests, if there are ‘English Tantrics’, she is definitely among them. Some years ago she acquired multiple copies of Drawing Room's publication ‘Field of Colour’, about a particular type of Tantric drawing from Jaipur and Udaipur. (These Tantric drawings have recently been most widely seen in the West.) She used these copies in different ways—some images she cut out and framed, some she used as a basis upon which make to new work, and some she transcribed: questions of agency, authorship, and appropriation abound. Also shown here are works that venture into the sonic realm of Tantra–Mantra (ritual conjoined with knowledge and theory). Symbols found in traditional Tantric drawings provide a starting point for new graphic notations.