Dance like Colleena

Colleena
Very often, dance has mesmerized me the way music does. Watching Odissi makes me sway gently in tandem with the dancer’s wave-like motions. I like the fluidity of this dance form as much as the elegant outfit and jewellery. If you are watching a live performance, try slowing down the shutter speed of your camera and you will see graceful curves and waves created by the dancer – just like the waves of the sea dancing gently on the fringes of a beach, perhaps in Puri.

Danseuse Colleena Shakti is by far the most graceful Odissi dancer among her contemporaries. Although not Indian, her features do not clash with Indian costumes, which makes one focus on her evocative performance. Her physique is lithe and she looks like a goddess in her dance costumes. Her passion comes across beautifully on stage…and of course, I love it that she chooses her outfits so well. I have never been too fond of garish gold jewellery, always preferring the more low-profile white metal. Perhaps that’s why, Odissi, with it’s minimalist filigreed-silver jewellery and head-dress made of sola (a type of indian reed) and jasmine, appeals to me more than Bharatanatyam, with it’s heavy gold temple jewellery.

I had challenged myself to paint a danseuse (specifically an Odissi dancer) in silk, floral and silver finery. Colleena’s photos immediately caught my fancy and this sketch was made from one of her online profiles. Here’s a link to Colleena Shakti’s biography and work.

I sketched the entire figure with a pencil and then darkened it with a black microtip pen. The filling was done with watercolours. It took around two days to finish the fine details on the saree costume, especially the jewellery. What I liked so much about this photo, apart from the dancer’s gorgeous features, was the rich red costume. Although the face is not captured accurately, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process of creating this piece. I do hope you enjoy viewing it as much too.

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Wheels of Prayer

Prayers-on-Wheels1
Perspectives are what all of us have. What sets you apart from me is how your perspectives are defined in life. The word ‘perspective’, a derivative of the Latin term ‘perspicere‘ or ‘to look through‘, aptly defines a vantage point or view that is specific to the observer’s eye. It cannot be replicated by someone else, unless the person stands where you do. Perspectives also have a way of confounding you. For instance, if you happen to travel the length and breadth of India, a myriad perspectives form on the journey, not just visual but also cultural, structural, societal and regional ones. Why else would India be called a ‘melting pot’?

In April 2012, we had planned an escapade to beat the sultriness of Mumbai. Rain was not anticipated soon and like every Mumbaikar, one dreaded the yawning gap between April and June – June being the month that brings in the soothing monsoon. A trip to Dharamasala materialized well. As we climbed to cooler heights in our bus from Delhi, we felt we were transported to the heavenly abode of the Gods. Dharamsala lay silent in the idyllic hills of Himachal Pradesh, fortified by the great Dhauladhar range.

This is the place where His Holiness the Dalai Lama had settled and spread the word about Peace and Buddhism, two catchwords that can never be separated. Along with the apple-cheeked, ruddy hill people of Himachal Pradesh, you also see an equal number of Tibetans here – those that escaped Tibet following the Chinese offensive, to settle in and around Himachal Pradesh.

I refrain from saying that Dharamsala is ‘occupied’ by Tibetan refugees. That’s a harsh term with many political leanings and no worthy meaning. My perspective allows me to safely say that when Tibet was troubled by the oppressive Chinese, it’s people didn’t have an option but to flee across their border, although some stayed back only to meet their tragic end. The shivers are still felt and seen. Even as we enjoyed our trip in the hills, we came across a peace march for yet another incident of self-immolation in Tibet.

As early as 1959, India had offered refuge to the Dalai Lama and his fellow Tibetans. It was probably the ethical thing to do at the time. We let them stay. Who are we to define imaginary borders? They are as unreal as a mirage in the desert and as juvenile as hopscotch. Borders only breed feelings of alienation and contempt, and keep the border security forces busy. More than 50 years after the exodus, Tibetans in India still pray and hope for peace in their native land. Dharamsala was once a sojourn for these refugees, but now it is home to them. They have established numerous trades and businesses, lending a different flavor to our culture in the forms of Tibetan art, music, food, and language. Monotony of any kind does not help the creative soul, the wanderer and artist, so I’m glad we have assimilated such diverse cultures.

I have a sketch from the Dalai Lama’s temple in McLeod Ganj. One side of the squarish structure is flanked by an obscure gate at a busy market street, and the other side overlooks the valley and pine trees below. If it is true that places of worship give out positive vibes, then it is truest for this temple. We circled around the inner sanctum, set in yet another square, enclosed by cylindrical prayer wheels on four sides. Turning the wheels in a clockwise direction is said to give out positive energy. The inscription on them read ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’, a six-syllabled mantra that holds the essence of Buddhism. The mantra reverberated in my heart long after returning to the city. It has an amazing calming effect on the mind.

The sketch was obviously made from a photo after I returned to Mumbai, because I rarely sketch on the scene. Live sketching is something I need to develop; it is the mark of a good artist. But thank goodness for digital photography, for I would have lost many an opportune moment! The perspective in this sketch was challenging, especially because I had to draw the wheels according to their graduated height and width, but the results were satisfying. The whole sketch was first drawn with a pencil, and then darkened with a black microtip pen. I love those pens and their oozing wet ink. I coloured the monk red with a microtip pen too, so as to define the subject in the picture.