04 Jun Decoding Indian Customs Through Art, One Artwork At A Time: Aparajita Barai
She graduated from National Institute of Design (NID), Gujarat and then did her masters in Design for Communication from University of Westminster, London. Aparajita Barai is the wonder woman who has taken the task of demystifying Indian customs, traditions, and rituals; in short the Indian-ness for both Indians and foreigners alike, upon herself. We Indians firmly believe in our culture and everything that comes along with it. As diverse as our customs can be we are united in following them, (mostly blindly) and passing them down to our younger ones.
Aparajita like Plato, one day decided to stop following blindly and start understanding, she wanted to delve deeper into the reasons; the hows and whys of what we generally just follow. Hence, began the quest of unravelling the mysteries and stories that ultimately form the bigger picture, Religion or Faith. As she went on exploring, peeling the mystery away layer by layer she realised she has unearthed a hidden treasure. To bring this treasure out to the world led to the birth of ‘BELOVED INDIA’ her venture. Aparajita Barai resides in Auroville, Puducherry.
Video Courtesy – Beloved India
Continue reading to know more about her and her works.
Who is Aparajita Barai?
Aparajita Barai is a graphic designer and an artist. Her work shows influence from the folk style and reveals the intricacy of traditional Indian art form. Mythology and spirituality predominantly mark her subject. Her motive and mission is to re-stir Indian spirituality and philosophy and present it with personal quest. She aims to dig out the ancient treasures, meanings and possibilities that have got submerged under the ceremonial practices
What is Beloved India?
BELOVED INDIA is started with the aim to re-look at Indian culture and re-establish the understanding. Art, design, campaign, research being the modes, it would dig to its root and address to the social needs.
Know more about Beloved India –
What inspired you to start this venture?
When I look back at my own life, I feel it was always within me. It just took time for me to recognize it and deliver it when it was ready.
Since my childhood I had been interested in these concepts and spirituality and was interested in drawing. When I was in my 11th standard I had won a Madhubani painting competition and gifted the painting to the President then Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. The time I spent with this great soul then left a deep impression in me. My present work is deeply influenced by that folk style. I later got a scholarship to learn about Indian Classical Music from the Dhrupad Maestro, Ustad Fahimuddin Dagar. The one month I spent in his house is full of experiences that took me deeper into realizing the ancient wisdom of this country.
So, if you see, many such occurrences kept preparing me for it and I kept imbibing as much as I could from every such opportunity.
And when I went for my masters in University of Westminster in London, as an output of the course “business for design”, BELOVED INDIA was born as a concept and plan. I felt there is a need to make the spiritual quests alive again and revive the rituals.
How India and her spirituality inspire you?
Spirituality does not belong to a country or a group. But it is overwhelming to see the amount of work based on it that has been done in this country and is still practised. It is amazing to see how this work has influenced so many layers of history taking so many forms creating so many ways of entry. And even after so many years we are still carrying these. Now, once you can recognise what tremendous potential these have, it is worth trying to make these awake again that over the time have fallen asleep on our shoulders and we habitually are still carrying it.
Tell us about a memorable response you got for your work.
During my exhibition, there was a person from Germany who visited the gallery. He said that while he was living with a tribe he took an herb and went in a state of trance where he saw several images in that state of mind. For him many of my artworks are similar to those images he saw then. There was another person from India who said the same, that in a deeper state of his consciousness, he saw my “Krishna” and recognises it to be the same.
There was an Australian man who pointed at my “Vishnu” artwork and said, “This is like THE DREAM from the Australian tribe.”
These people are from different parts of the world who have never met me before. I have never heard of their memory or the work they are referring to. And yet hearing of the resemblances, it took me back to that realization of the common centre in our being. The more one walks towards it, the more similar everything becomes.
Is there a process you go through before you start painting?
There are different ideas that come to me at different occasions, mostly as I keep chewing on my own thoughts and sometimes as an experience that I want to translate later into a visual language. When these come as a realization, I keep that noted as a concept in a written form or as a small sketch. My style being detailed, it takes me a long time to finish one artwork. Till that time, these newer concepts wait as seeds in my seed-bank. I pull them out as I finish one by one. Some lose its essence due to this gap and cannot be re-worked. Some get renewed and more matured by the time. Some mix with other concepts and become thicker in plot. And that is how the new canvas becomes ready for its next one.
Any seminal experience you have had as an artist?
The entire process of creating an artwork is full of experiences. In my process, it is a half conscious and half sub-conscious state, while one part that is revealed is working on another part that is still a mystery. And as the mystery reaches its point of getting revealed, newer layer of mystery is created that is attempted to be further revealed. And in this process one gets deeper into penetrating layers after layers within one’s own consciousness making the ground more prepared and more fertile for the next attempt.
Has a real life situation ever inspired you to create art? If yes, please share the story with us.
If art is not inspired by real life situation, I wonder if we can call that art. It should not come from Van Gogh or Picasso just because the teacher said, they are the masters. It should not come from the paintings in the galleries that are getting sold these days, so that creating a similar trend can bring one luck and fame. In my opinion it should only and only come from real life situations and as much as possible from the very core of that individual. But that inspiration can come in bits and pieces collected and captured as a whole or can be “real” in a way that is “surreal”. That source in many cases can be very mysterious to be able to pin-point as one.
However, I can narrate one such situation that created a fertile bed for one of my artworks: KRISHNA
Meditation for me has been different on different days. Sometimes I have to struggle to quieten my mind for a long time before I can go any deeper and sometimes without any struggle from my side, there is a natural pull guiding me beneath the layers. One such “pull” I had experienced very strongly during a Dhrupad concert by Gundecha Brothers. I had just closed my eyes so that I could focus better. And there was a strong force taking me inwards, layers below layers so quick that I began to fear. It was almost like a strong magnetic force taking me to the centre. And when you reach there it is so restful, like being in the arms of someone full of love.
Before this experience, Krishna was partly a theory to me, partly experienced, partly understood and partly conflicted. After that evening I could almost see what that entity represents. I created my artwork “Krishna” taking inspiration from that experience.
You have a deeper understanding of the deities and that has become the bedrock of the way you conceptualize them and bring them to life on canvas. Share with us that understanding which has become your inspiration?
“Krishna” literally means “attraction”. That centre of energy and mystery, no matter which path you take, if you walk it right, he is that magnetic pull, where you will stand still, devoid of thoughts, in loss of intellect and words. And if you have been looking for him in a specific spot, this is to remind, he is everywhere. He is one with the nature, flowing with his music beneath every creation. Like a tree that draws water from its roots to give colours to its flowers, we are all drawing energy and life from that great source constantly, continually, eternally through lives after lives.
The goddess of wisdom here is represented in a non-godly way, as a humble, ordinary girl sitting by the lotus-pond beside the swans in her leisure. She represents the desire to know, to learn, to grow which cannot come without submitting oneself completely through humbleness. This is to find the Saraswati within own selves, recognize among the people we meet and become the Saraswati and evoke the thirst in each of us.
The word Durga comes from “Durg” meaning fort. It is about building that strong base within own-self against which no evil thought can prevail. It is highly misunderstood when the evil is not considered within but outside. The evil here is shown as the projection of own-self being tracked and checked with an alert mind thus creating a calm outer self.
At the end of one “Kalpa” the Universe contracts and exists as potential. Vishnu represents the soul of the Universe. When he wakes up for the new beginning, the Universe gradually expands and takes many forms. The “Anant Shesha” or the endless headed serpent represents the endless narratives the Universe will uncoil into as it expands. Like a snake that was coiled up it will now uncoil and take forms. It is that moment when the uncoiling has just begun; that Vishnu wakes up from his sleep.
Your most favourite artwork from this series and why?
It is the “KRISHNA” again. Each time I look at it, it fills me up with a strange mystery calling me towards that centre again. Before I created this, I had purchased the new canvas and it was lying in my room. I did not know what I would make. After I returned from the concert that evening, I had that “experience” held in me and I was eager to express it. It took me a lot of passive time to complete this work. After I created each part I sat for hours looking at it trying to figure out how I could capture that experience in forms and colours.
What is your most important artistic tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio?
I don’t want to underestimate the importance of good tools but I think these thoughts mostly create illusions in our mind, “Only if I could have that better model of camera, I would have been the best photographer today” or “Only if I could acquire the gadgets equal to that of Batman, I would have been a Batman myself.” The fact is even in the caves where there was nothing; humans had found ways to express their ideas on the cave walls with paint. When creativity is in its full force, tools and mediums cannot become a hindrance.
What is most crucial though, is to become that fertile ground. To become that ground so receptive that the moment a seed is sown, it can grow into a plant. It requires one to maintain that and keep ploughing and keep preparing. If that is bartered for anything else, no tool will be able to substitute for long.
Spill some beans about the next series you are working on.
My earlier series was named ‘ONE” and explored different deities and spiritual concepts. I want to now take one deity at a time and immerse myself into reading, thinking and exploring on that. On this next one, I am focusing mostly on Krishna. I am trying to dive deeper into having a closer understanding of this entity and many concepts associated with that.
Very few people have the eye to look beyond the visible and a thirst to know more than what is told. And when it’s a matter of age old traditions there are very few who ask and even fewer who answer (correctly). As an artist and a person Aparajita through her work is revealing the beauty and vastness of our seemingly trivial customs and practices. She is adding another dimension in our culture every time she paints.