CAST - Paresh Maity : Birla Academy Of Art And Culture - Kolkata

13 November - 20 December 2021
Paresh Maity has a traveller's soul, reciting real and imagined stories which he crafts from experience and memory into both paintings and sculptures. Still embedded in the rich traditions of Bengali art and crafts, he continues to bring to life the cultural wealth of India's landscapes and history. Maity's sculptures demonstrate great versatilityand a monumentalism that involves his original love of miniatures and tribal art. Indeed, he has reinvested his energies inthe tactile dignity of village life and the natural world, drawing on narratives that have permeatedrural consciousness for centuries.
 
In this exhibitionwe see a carefully curated repertoire of figures from secular life that allude to divine powers and are suggestive of the interconnectedness of all existence. The artist's signaturemotifs, including vegetation, faces, and animals, are here personified in bronze, brass, and copper, as if to emphasize that whatever manifests comes into being because of certain conditions, be they tangible or unseen, which are in turn shaped by other phenomena. What is under our noses and even on an energetic or psychologicallevel, emerges from a vast, supportive, and everchanging continuum of unknowable causal relationships. And this unfolding of stories within stories, large and small, is reiterated across human time and culture. A veritable theatre of figures and sensations seems to fascinate Maity, whose early intuitions have aimed to express an accumulated spirit of place and ambiance in the sculptural form:
 
"I was seven-years-old when I first watched the artisans in my native village - Tamluk in West Bengal- making idols of the Goddess Durga. I was totally mesmerised and decided then and there that I wanted to be an artist. SoI began by making clay toys to sell in the village fairs and I kept this up throughout my adolescence to help fund my art education."[1]
 
While painting has dominated most of Paresh Maity's artistic output, in the last fifteen years or so he has increasingly revisited sculpture and produced impressive installations. Adding exciting possibilities oflighting and location, so viewers can interact from various angles, he enjoys the challenge of creating new, multidimensional experiences.Indeed, designing for public and private spacesis clearly driving the market for global contemporary art, which demandsevermore visual impact. Scale has become a defining factor in art content, and as we standbefore works that are vastly larger than ourselves, we are somewhathumbled by their influence. But even with his most ambitious ideas Maity emphasizes smaller, elemental components that might otherwise escape our attention. His giant installation of metallic worker ants for example - crawling over walls and provocatively titled Procession - are made from reappropriated Enfield motorcycle parts. Their instinctive, habitual,and apparently unconscious marching for resources and communication no doubt mimes the behaviours of our own industrialized and now digital societies.
 
Conversely, Bengali architecture, terracotta modelling, Dhokra casting, and other plastic arts in their earliest forms served the specificaesthetic needs and spiritual purposes of its farming and artisanal communities, which used the abundant clays and metals of their deltaic lands.Particularly inspired by festivals, the artist has tapped into the social, creative,and environmental expressions of his birthplace. Durga Puja celebrations in West Bengal typically reverberate with the kind of frenzied productivity that brings cities and villages to a standstill.But Maity reveals a poetic sensibilitythat is quietly rendered in the sensuous contours of his sculptural forms, which are enlivened by myriad cultural allusionsand interpretations. For instance, on a metaphoric level his Sangam(2019) work, from the Sanskrit samagama, connotes the ancient literature of South India and the three massgatherings of poets, said to have distilled the best literary works from the greatest hearts and minds of the region. On a material level, this piece incorporates the most fundamental "confluence" -parents and child as one - that shapes the human family.A cubic, maternal,and rustic countenance holds this union together, as Maity evokes a typically female dedication to social stability and harmony. Interestingly, a much broader narrative is communicated by entering a very familiar and relatable imaginative space.
 
The artist's Four Pillars of Life (2021) pays homage to an Indian aphorism that considers each person to be like a house with four rooms - physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Our tendencies to live mostly in just one or two spaces reflects our fears or ignorance about our true potential and resources. Ancient Hindu thinkers had also divided the human lifespan into four age-related Ashramas (stages): Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retired) and Sannyasa (renunciate).Maity's unpretentiously tiered columnin bronze simply represents these complex ideas and also supports the Purusartha concept upholding the four goals of a fulfilling life, namely, Dharma (piety, morality, duties), Artha (wealth, health, resources), Kama (love, relationships, emotions) and Moksha (liberation, freedom, self-realization).
 
With touches of irony and whimsy, The Spice Route (2019), is an entertaining piece that looks like a playful take on contemporary globalization in a brass replica of the ubiquitous mini truck in India. Sacks fullof chili peppers, symbolically noting the material value and legendary protective properties of chilies in many cultures, literally recallthe medieval "Maritime Silk Roads" - linking the East with the West via Japanand Indonesia, around India and onto the Middle East, across the Mediterranean and finally to Europe. This life-sized installation also suggests the accumulation of costs as goods move overland from middleman to middleman. Vasco Da Gama's legendary discovery of a sea route to India (1497 to 1499) resulted in trade agreements that changed the course of geopolitics. Within a few decades, half of the Asian spice trade shifted from road to sea and subsequently triggered the means and contexts for colonization.
 
In the form of a massive but elegant gaur in brass and copper, The Power(2018) consists of countless bellsdisplaying both the natural assets of the bulls in South India and the ghanti used in pujas for invoking divinity and driving away negative forces. Filling the mind with focused, subtle soundsin mantras and Vedic chants, bells drown noise and convey the all-pervasive nature of the supreme (Sarasvati). Signifying the phenomenal world that is all powerful but evanescent, like the sound of a bell, the artist reminds us that this coveted quality can be perceived and experienced but not retained, and that we must ultimately relinquish our attachments.This idea is contrasted with the apparent solidity of the bull's stance, which also calls to mind Shiva's sacred Nandi, the purveyor of delight. When the world becomes evil, Shiva destroys it to make way for beneficial change. This much celebrated partnership in Hindu scriptures and art dates to the earliest cultures, where dairy farming was the most important and life-sustaining occupation. Maity's bull embodies a more nurturing, protective,and far more feminine energy than the brute optimism and volatility of the renownedCharging Bull icon found on Wall Street. And one cannot help but extend the narrative possibilities to arrive at the very real collective power of the people, as well as other inferences to much greater forms of supernatural influence.
 
As a timeless tribute to the interplay between male and female qualities, Androgyne(2021)serves as an elegant symbol of the blending of desirable characteristics. Contemporary fashion and pop culture across the world are rife with androgynous imagery but of course it has been there for centuries.Seen differently from different angles, this sculpture portrays the highest psychological competencies and holistic aspirations for both the individual and societal evolution. 
 
Rider (2021) is an intriguing bronzewhich seems to suggest the combination of elegance and strength,and the special bond between humans and animals. Hindu scriptures depictLord Surya riding across the sky in a chariot led by seven horses, ushering in the cosmic raysthat radiate life-giving warmth from our omnipotent Sun, with their reins as the earthly seasons. While the horse is clearly a universal symbol of freedom, travel, movement, and desire, here the artist has left us to ponder the significance of its invisible rider. 
 
Along withsuch stylised forms, Maity has even conjured the romantism of the Indian landscape. His larger-than-life brass installation titled Golden Shower(2019)is based on theamaltas orIndian laburnum (Cassia fistula) tree. Manifesting nature's abundance in summer, by April it sheds its leaves and slender brown branches to reveal a medium sized and unassuming tree that looks bare. But in May yellow-green buds appear again and by June its dazzling pendulous blooms hang like chandeliers. The amaltas trees' exuberant sprays of gold, amber, and citrine huesfamously revitalize the spirit. Considered a healing plant in Ayurveda, this tree is known as aragvadha ("disease killer") and its flowers have ritual significance. Perhaps our artist is invoking the transformative energyof hope, even when all appears lost.
 
Maity's Muse (2020) acknowledgesthe intensely feminineinfluence of creative potential. Traditionally connected to nature, this evidently Indianfigure appears to preside over the collective imagination. Both an earthy, sensual physiognomy and an ethereal quality add weight to the collaborative process and the uniquely complex relationship between a muse and her counterpart. No doubt, celebrating such partnerships with writers, musicians, filmmakers,and artistscomes naturally to Paresh, who is married to acclaimed artist Jayasri Burman and is part of a prominent Indian art family. Aesthetically, these sculptures have evolved an exciting language that fluently incorporates classical traits, regional mannerisms, and contemporary life.

 - Rosa Maria Falvo