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The Feminine in the Divine

Tat Tvan Asi – you exist in everything, and the universe exists within you, forms the core of multi-disciplinary artist, poet and dreamer, Seema Kohli’s solo London show comprising a unique selection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, etchings, and serigraphs.

Throughout art history, the beauty of the female form has been one of the oldest and most commonly depicted motifs in visual arts. For Delhi-based Seema Kohli, one of our most versatile and hugely talented artists, her work is primarily a celebration of the female form and energy, the source of the twin forces of creation and destruction. Shakti, the divine cosmic energy manifest through female embodiment, has been extensively explored, engaged with, and retold through the 62-yearold artist’s exhaustive practice that spans over three decades embracing a variety of mediums, including paintings, sculpture, installations and performance. So for someone who narrates a multitude of stories through her canvases, interweaving the spiritual and mythical as well as the personal and universal into her work, what does a solo showing, and that too, at the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts mean? Kohli says for so many years, she had been visiting the great institution. “Now, I was there myself at that very space presenting my experiential video Parikrama and my narrative performance Circle of Our Own as an extension of my show,” says the artist, who had her first solo show in London from October 26, 2022, to November 6, 2022. “My performance was followed by a talk about my work with Dr Sangeeta Datta (Baithak), Priya Singh from Bonhams, and moderated by Manmeet Kaur,” she informs. Kohli says she was overwhelmed by the response of her friends and collectors whose homes she was already a part of as artworks. but meeting for the first time. “Art lovers from different nationalities, faiths and identities were pouring in and connecting with the inner sentiment of love and consciousness. And even expressing either in their poetry, music or movement responding to the images. We even had the honour of having the Indian High Commissioner to the U.K, H.E. Mr. Vikram K. Doraiswami, and his wife, Sangeeta at the special preview on October 27,” she adds. “The exhibition, which Sangeeta Ahuja of the London-based SA Fine Arts Gallery. and I had started planning in 2017 over a phone call, introduced by mutual friends, finally came into being in 2022. It has a collection of around 50 artworks, especially curated for London and worldwide audiences,” she informs. The solo exhibition titled Tat Tvam Asi – you exist in everything, and the universe exists within you, forms the core of this unique selection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, etchings, and serigraphs, including hand-painted archival prints based on Kohli’s video and performance art. Each work has a narrative and an insight into Kohli’s oeuvre, which is predominantly based on the theme of ‘Shakti’ – the energy. Through her works, Kohli brings to light the intricate connections of divine energies in our body and in the universe. “Using the body as an instrument to unshackle the confines of the body, flesh, and blood, the intellect becomes subservient to consciousness, readily supplying the mantras and slokas latent in the subconscious,” she explains. “Engaging with a wide circuit of references, like religious iconography, world mythology, philosophy, and

literature, I weave together a story to recover the lost feminine narrative in cultural history,” she adds. Kohli’s harmonious compositions and intricate detailing with an exceptional use of gold leaf and blue render a fantastical world of stories, myths and legends. Deeply meditative and calm, Kohli’s semianthropomorphic divinities surround themselves with trees, birds and animals in the lap of nature. The exhibition is also available on a virtual gallery platform on the website of S.A. Fine Arts – For those who came in late, Circle of Our Own, a live narrative performance by the artist, is another step in her journey exploring the divine feminine energy, Hiranyagarbha, or the “Golden Womb” – space where Prakriti (nature) emerges, where everything is in a constant flow of renewal and rejuvenation. As for Parikrama, the Sanskrit word translates literally as the “path around something”; in a Hindu (and Buddhist) context it means the circumambulation of sacred spaces. It is about her personal parikrama of three such spaces: the Saptamatrika caves at Ellora, the Chausath Yogini Temple, Bhedaghat, also called the Golaki Math (“circular lodge”), and Mahadev Pani, a Shiva cave temple in Madhya Pradesh.

London-based art historian Sona Datta, who curated Kohli’s show, appreciates the uniquely Indian, yet universal appeal of her art. Having served as the Head of South Asian Art at the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts and curated the Bengal Collective at the British Museum among others, Datta has a long history of introducing works of historic significance from the Indian subcontinent to a discerning audience abroad. Little wonder that Kohli caught her eye. “She is interesting because her art is different from the flat global contemporary art, which tends to look the same. The elements of Shakti and Tantra are palpable, in a brave and unselfconscious way. I believe her appeal lies in her contemporary way of addressing timeless and universal themes.” Kohli, who admits that she doesn’t do any sketches at all, says whatever she feels like from within, she lets it just flow. She believes in creating stories that reclaim the lost feminine narrative in cultural history. ‘Tat Tvam Asi’ displays works that are diverse in range, yet collectively portrays the message of the oneness of humanity. There are, of course, the famous Golden Womb pieces, with the overarching theme of regeneration of life. The tapestry here throbs with a life of its own.

Kohli has had over 30 solo shows in Venice, Brussels, New York, Dubai, Singapore, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and many more. She has participated in international biennials (Venice, Shanghai, India), and art fairs (Hong Kong, Basel, Beijing, Madrid, India). Her works are in collections of the National Gallery Of Modern Art, Bengaluru, Melinda Bill Gates Foundation, Rubin’s Museum, MOSA-Brussels, and Kochi Museum of Arts. Working with oils on canvas, inks, mixed mediums, ceramics and printmaking, her work has redefined the basic contours of figurative art in India, finding admirers across the planet. Her work captures in its entirety the perpetual change, order, strength and fragility, colours and rhythm, melody and exuberance of the elemental world. Her work can be seen as public art as murals of 10ft x 100ft at the T3 Delhi International Airport, Mumbai International/Domestic Airport, the Defence Ministry, Tata Residency, Manipal University, ONGC, Tata Center of Excellence, Park Hyatt, Chennai, Leela Hotel-Delhi, Bengaluru etc.