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The art of Tantra

This ancient artistic idiom that was ‘resuscitated’ in the ’60s still has its takers. Albeit, with varied interpretations. Some even call it ‘abstract expressionism’. Namita Kohli tells more...

india Updated: Sep 30, 2007 01:45 IST
Namita Kohli

Some call it ‘abstract expressionism’; others insist it’s just a visual interplay of cosmic symbols. ‘Neo-Tantra’ or what started as an artists’ movement (of sorts) in the ’60s, might have lost many of its masters, but still struggles to survive in its myriad interpretations.



For instance, at artist Om Prakash Sharma’s exhibition of recent works based on Tantra. “Tantra originated from the union of Shiva and Shakti, an intense practice of rituals and customs. While I don’t practise that, as an artist it still remains a socially relevant form of self expression. It delves into the source and the core of existence,” says the artist who works with the mandalas (geometric patterns), pure colours and cosmic geometry.



A religious practice that prescribes breaking of taboos, equality of the sexes and sexual freedom, Tantra found its artistic impressions with various symbols like the lingam and yoni in sculptures and scrolls of ancient India. After Ajit Mookerjee’s giant tome Tantra Art in 1966 — he was the then director and curator of the Crafts Museum — artists like GR Santosh, Biren De, KCS Paniker and J Swaminathan were ‘influenced’ immensely by this philosophy. Thus was born Neo-Tantra, a form that art critic Suneet Chopra cautiously refers to as a broadly ‘aesthetic and visual exercise’ or ‘non-figurative abstract,’ but not based on scriptures. <b1>



As artists like Sharma started using Tantra symbols in their works, here was a form that merged both the abstract and the figurative. “I started using geometric symbols and instruments, combining architectural concepts for my artistic idiom.



Some critics even called it ‘architectonics’,” he says. With a metaphysical and mystic quality in their works, even artists like Sohan Qadri, SH Raza (with his bindu concept), V Vishwanadhan, Shobha Broota and Prabhakar Kolte are believed to have been ‘influenced’ by Tantra. The movement, however, seemingly fizzled out after a decade or so.



Explains Professor Madhu Khanna, president of the Delhi-based Tantra Foundation, “There’s a divide between art and religion now. Though artists have always been inspired Tantra, what we see now is not the esoteric Tantra, but each artist’s individual journey. Much of it has also become hi-fashion and is least understood.”



Khanna, who co-wrote The Tantric Way with Mookerjee in the ’70s, among other books on Tantra, calls it a highly meditative and healing practice, not meant for individual expression. Agrees Chopra, “Tantra in its original form was meant to create an impact. As opposed to contemporary art, medieval art was heavily dependant on religion.”



In this “changing” context, abstract artists like Neeraj Goswami whose works delve into ‘formlessness’, also fall broadly in the realm of Tantra. “My work with mysticism is a means to self-realisation. Tantra is a strict discipline with powerful visual symbols and is meditative, which inspires me,” he says. Perhaps when German philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche remarked: There are no facts, only interpretations,’ he could have well been talking about Neo-Tantra.