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Faith, fear and the in-between
NIDHI GUPTA  8th Apr 2012

Evening at Benaras

enaras, the archaic town on the banks of the holy Ganges, thriving on an economy that revolves around religion, has captured the imagination of many a roving eye, believer or not. The usual motifs to represent the spiritual essence of the place have included its quintessential sadhus, temples and the river itself. But for veteran painter Manu Parekh, who is known for his unique take on all things 'normal', Benaras has been a journey — not into faith in its usual, soul-searching sense, but of compiling obtuse notions of that much venerated sensibility.

In his first solo show in Delhi in six years, titled Faith, we are given an insight into the meanderings of Parekh's mind over the past 32 years, as it traversed a new, exciting terrain. This vast corpus stems from a single "magical evening that could've been straight out of Tarkovsky film", when Parekh was stunned by the beauty of lights and colours under a vermillion sky, while travelling from one ghat to another on a boat. On at Art Alive Gallery, Gurgaon, the exhibition compiles 18 of his most inspired works — bold brush strokes and colours explode across vast canvasses that reflect the energy and vivacity of this trope.

For Parekh, the flowers, floats and streets of Benaras are all fodder for a greater, more metaphysical interpretation that incorporates his interest in the contrasts and contradictions of human behaviour.

Curator and art historian Annapurna Gerimala makes a distinction behind the idea of 'Benaras' and the city 'Banaras'. In spirit, Benaras is suffused with manners and temperaments specific to its situation and the physical reality of the city compliments this further. But for Parekh, the flowers and floats and streets are all fodder for a greater, more metaphysical interpretation that incorporates his continuing interest in the contrasts and contradictions of human behaviour.

The exhibition begins with Glimpses from a Boat — a section that perhaps harks back to that evening most, with paintings depicting the skyline of Benaras, boats, accessories of the Godman and so on. Next is Transformed Stone, a section which explores alchemy and the process by which a mere stone acquires its aura and get transformed into, say, a shivling. Evening at Benaras and Morning Light at Benaras depict stones in some sort of a womb, drawing and exuding their power from nature. In Repeating Forms, Parekh revisits familiar tropes including swans, light and nature to refine his art.

Finally, there is Flowers, a floral outburst that cross-pollinates these innocent elements of nature with humanity. "We usually think of flowers as a gifting option. I gave them their own life and world — they end up elevated at God's feet, trampled under ours and often symbolise bonds and binds," explains Parekh.

"The aim of this show has been to build an organic theatre," he states, firmly adding that this work is not about his own faith or religion. "Sexuality and faith are often on the same plane — they are both essentially human and are most importantly about communication," he says. For the man who travelled across the Vatican, Jerusalem, Ajmer and Benares in a single year in 2005, collective faith too is tempered by fear — and man lives suspended between these two forces.

Faith is on at Art Alive Gallery, Gurgaon, till 12 May.

Venue: Art Alive Gallery, Gurgaon

Date: Until 12 May

Timing: 11am -7pm

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