My art practice, over the years, has focused on the concept of the voyage, its transformations, attachments and associations, especially when place interconnects with memory and identity.
In 2009 I travelled in Rajasthan when in residency in Udaipur.
My daily walks provided me with multiple scenes of everyday life such as the markets with the vibrant colours of the vegetables displays, the hand made baskets, cooked food and also the brightly coloured saris worn, with great elegance, by the women. The streets felt like they were Indians’ second home, busy with the crisscrossing of pedestrians, auto rickshaws and cars. Food seemed to be an important part of the daily routine with restaurants and streets food vendors cooking on the footpath or pushing along large or small carts. The workshops were open onto the streets, from tailors, jewellers to cobblers.
And overlooking the town busy life, the palaces with their imposing presence, glorious architecture and rich designs; glaring contrasts between life on the streets and their own opulence. Apart from the crisscrossing and the entanglement of the electrical wires, a reminder of the present time, it felt like moments frozen in the past.
While visiting the palaces I was struck by the fresco paintings decorating their walls and the intricate lace like stone works on the windows called Jali. Looking through their cut out stones, I could follow the myriad of lively activities on the streets and observe without being seen. It was this very human desire of observing without been observed that provoked me to consider the similar contemporary parallels with internet applications, such as “Facebook” and “Instagram”. Here the technology, and its binary structure, stands in for palatial architecture but the function remains the same, to observe through a filtered medium. A disconnection or to be artificially connected, when life experiences are filtered by internet applications, hiding behind pixels, hiding from life, being detached and isolated from the outside world.
The parallel between the two screens is the geometry on which there are based. Pixels means PIcture Element and it works on a grid. When the picture on the computer screen is enlarged, or is of low definition, the pattern or Pixels, forming the grid, are visible.
The designs of the Jali screens are based on a same concept of the grid. When looking through them, the streetscapes or landscapes are viewed through the geometrical patterns of the stonework. The images then are decomposed, cut up by the geometry of the stoneworks.
The geometry, architectural concept of the Jali resonates on many levels through history. Its architectural principal applied to the Islamic architecture that can be found in mosques and palaces I visited during my residency in Rajasthan. The designs are very elaborate with exquisite tiles patterns and stoneworks. Man can’t be represented but the geometry in which man stands becomes an analogy for its representation within a perfect world. In the many palaces scattered around Rajasthan, I could admire and document the many different motifs used in tiles and stone works.
It is an architectural concept found in Islamic architecture where each element, from the tiles to the stonework, is based on the square. The same theory applies to the classical order in European architecture developed by the Roman architect Vitruvius who wrote a book but with no drawings. It is Leonardo da Vinci who illustrated his concept by drawing a man within a square within a circle, “the Vitruvian man”. Man stands within the proportion of geometry symbolising a harmony with the world he lives in. It is the same principal that applies to the Palace of Versailles where I had a residency. The symbolism of the architectural geometry is also found in medieval religious monuments with, for example, the cloister built on a square format.
This cross over and parallelism between Western culture and Islamic culture fascinated me and it was a theme I wanted to explore in my work.
The geometrical patterns of the Jali provided me with a motif to work with. I analysed my photographs of the screens and drew their designs. I then overlaid those designs on top of the photographs I took of her different encounters of life on the streets and of people I met during my residency in Rajasthan. I drew, in gouache, the geometrical shapes found in the architecture creating a layer obliterating, in part, the image, recreating what it would be like to look through the Jali, a screen dividing the images in intricate grids “pixelating” the image. Not only rendering what it would be like to be in the palaces but also introducing the explosion of colours I witnessed every day while there.