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Asia Society Texas Center hosts exhibition on Hindu deities

By Sravanth Verma     Jun 2, 2014 in Entertainment
Houston - Asia Society Texas Center is hosting an exhibition entitled "Transcendent Deities of India: The Everyday Occurrence of the Divine," featuring artwork by painter Raja Ravi Varma, photographs by Manjari Sharma, and drawings by novelist Abhishek Singh.
Asia Society Texas Center is hosting an exhibition entitled "Transcendent Deities of India: The Everyday Occurrence of the Divine," featuring artwork by painter Raja Ravi Varma, contemporary photographs by Manjari Sharma, and ink drawings and prints by up-and-coming graphic novelist Abhishek Singh. There will also be a series of vibrant photographs by Brooklyn-based Indian contemporary artist Manjari Sharma and modern chromolithographs produced by the Raja Ravi Varma. The exhibition is on view until September 14, 2014, and is the first time these artists’ works have been presented together in Texas. Held at the Louisa Stude Sarofim Gallery at the Texas Center, the exhibition of almost 60 images is partly funded by a grant from the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance.
"We are thrilled to bring this fascinating exhibition of Indian art to Houston," said Bonna Kol, executive director, Asia Society Texas Center. "This is a unique opportunity to promote understanding between cultures by viewing aspects of religious art and practice in South Asia through a modern and contemporary lens." Bridget Bray, director of exhibitions, Asia Society Texas Center said, “Transcendent Deities of India features Hindu gods and goddesses depicted in the less familiar formats of photography and chromolithography which demonstrates their ongoing relevance to more recent artists who utilized the technology of their eras. These modern and contemporary representations of the deities preserve the tangible connection between worshipers and the objects of their reverence, which has an important religious function as well as making the works visually compelling to a broader audience.”
A painting by Raja Ravi Varma of Saraswati  the Hindu goddess of music and wisdom.
A painting by Raja Ravi Varma of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of music and wisdom.
Raja Ravi Varma was born in 1848 in the princely state of Travancore in South India, and is known as the father of Indian modernism. He was one of the first artists to depict Hindu deities on canvas. His work was appreciated around the world and won prizes in Vienna in 1873 and Chicago in 1893. In India, his work set off a revolution of sorts as he used the process of chromolithography to make prints of his paintings for sale to the masses.
Manjari Sharma is a contemporary photographer born in India, who moved to the United States to pursue photography. Her photographs presented at the exhibition were also part of an earlier exhibition entitled "Darshan." Each photograph of a Hindu deity is presented in an assemblage crafted by a team of around 35. Props, sets, prosthetics, make-up, costumes, and jewelry are designed to exacting specifications. The photographic prints are meant to be presented in an environment that resembles that of a Hindu temple, with incense, lamps, and invocations.
For Abhishek Singh, the third artist in the exhibition, this is his first exhibition. Singh is a graphic novelist who published his first graphic novel in 2012, Krishna: A Journey Within. He depicts his characters intricately, with digital manipulation and colored prints based on preparatory work in ink and acrylic or pencil. "You can see that Abhishek is an extremely skilled draftsman. But all of this is based on his deep philosophical thinking about how these epics apply in a contemporary framework," Bray said. "The visual vocabulary is there, but he's using it in such a different way." Speaking of why she chose these three artists for the exhibition, she said, "Some avant-garde movements discard the past and don't use it to their advantage. These three artists do a wonderful job of showing how they're drawing from the past to move forward."
The exhibition is also promoting greater visitor interaction. "It's not just an iPad in the gallery, lower-tech solutions can be interesting too," Bray said, referring to the large mirror in the hallway where viewers are encouraged to try their hand at the mudras or ritual hand gestures that the deities hold. Visitors are also invited to take photographs in the galleries and share thoughts in writing that can later be put up at the center or on social media. The idea is to build better global citizens, even if people aren't familiar with the 'cultural matrix,' maybe open up their visual vocabulary, so they feel like this is part of their milieu and they understand who Shiva and Vishnu and Brahma might be," Bray said.
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