About the Series
Deka, 10, in Greek, is a series of 10 paintings I have embarked upon, to document, render or visualize the contribution of womankind to our life on earth. Through forgotten history, my series attempts to unearth and present to the viewer as well as claim the ecological, biological, cultural, economic, A and archaeological significance of women as a species. This entire series could be considered as a visual attempt at feminist anthropology. It is quite a broad topic as I have realized but it will be a rewarding task to paint this series as a tribute to these forgotten women who preserved entire cultures, almost single-handedly.
Dasavathara, in Hindu mythology catalogues the ten avatars of Vishnu, as a savior and nurturer of humankind. Chronologically, many equate these avatars to Darwin’s theory of evolution, from the beginnings of life from water, to amphibians and weapon bearers and agriculturalists to pastoralists to eventually to a fully formed functional human being. I plan to go down this path as mythology is a beautiful way to connect new thinking with an established common premise. Also, women have been the saviours of earth, but epistemology has often ignored the contribution of them, typically labelling them as the weaker, dependent sex.
Koorma– is the second Avatar of Vishnu, where he takes the shape of a tortoise, to save a sinking Meru mountain, during the churning of the Milky ocean in pursuit of the divine nectar of immortality, Amrith. Devas and Asuras take both sides and use the snake Vasuki wrapped around the great Meru mountain, to churn the eternal milk. Meru starts sinking under its own weight, and Vishnu quickly takes the form of a tortoise, swims down, and lifts Meru on his back.
My version of “Koorma” documents two kinds of women, hailing from the tribes from both ends of the world, while paying tribute to the weight- bearing capacity of women, along with exploring the evolution of a backbone, or vertebrates, from sea creatures. Tswana women, from Africa, weave baskets with patterns that reflect their beliefs and values, with traditional symbols like “Knees of the tortoise” and “Tears of a giraffe”, that serves as an important ecological and sustainable conservation initiative. In the south Pacific, I paint the women of Palau, who have a strong female connection with their tribe, through their own female currency made from turtle shells and interesting women-only rituals that celebrates motherhood. These women offer interesting perspectives on ecology, economy, and social and moral values through their way of life. To me, they symbolize Koorma, the ultimate weight-bearer.
Koorma – Painting Description
The painting evolved with time, to incorporate a lot of details and a lot many synchronicities. Since it is a Vishnu based painting, based on one of his avatars, the composition of the Knees of the tortoise design on the painting’s right, signifies chakra, while the Toluk, the turtle shell currency of the island of Belau serves as a conch, to announce wealth and prosperity. The conch also appears again, at the beach below, to announce the arrival of life from sea to land, matching the chakra of the spiral of life, in the pregnant stomach of the earth goddess, Pachamama, at the centre of the painting.
I paint a psychedelic tortoise at the centre, with its 13 divisions signifying the moon cycles of a female menstruation, and the 28 scales surrounding it, signifying the number of days in each cycle. This is no coincidence; a tortoise shell was used as a calendar for women in ancient Incan tribal cultures. The tortoise’s shell is its home, and a backbone fused into one. Life emerged in land due to the development of backbone, and backbone is probably the most important feature needed to bear the weight of a baby, considering a female body in gestation. Pachamama, with the world in her pregnant stomach, enables a home and a backbone, by touching the back of this metaphorical tortoise. I have also made the tortoise shell resemble a double helix, to pay tribute to the evolution theory, for the DNA that enabled the growth of a backbone. I chose Pachamama as the main deity because of her weight bearing, and Incan rituals of dancing, that is shaped like the milky way. She bears the earth, while we humans churn the milky way. She is also under the ground, where Incan people throw offerings into the ground during harvest, as a tribute and thanksgiving, for her infinite patience. Koorma swam under, too. Some of these details were planned, while many were beautiful synchronicities that just fell into place during the composition of this painting. The sea turtles and young tortoises find their way to the sea, for protection, and I was inspired to include this detail, as children always complete the mother, and I was inspired by this Quranic verse in Sufism, that reads “Extol the name of your Lord, the Highest, who has created and regulated, and has destines and guided”[87:1-3] that talks about God guiding the followers to him, as turtles are guided to sea after they hatch.
We move to the left of the painting, which is mostly in sunny and warm colours, indicative of the weather in Africa, showing a mother, grandmother, and a child, weaving some beautiful Botswana baskets, using their traditional Tswana designs. Grandmothers are so important for two reasons, one, tortoises and turtles live very long lives, so they are naturally grandparents; and two, according to the theory of natural selection, a being not able to sustain or procreate is usually weeded off, however, nature chose to keep grandmothers, who are past their fertile years, because nature found that nurturing little children is one of the key functions of grandmothers, especially while their daughters were busy being pregnant, in the absence of family planning options. Behind them is the ‘Knees of the tortoise’ basket design, that depict the knee print of a tortoise on sand; Isn’t it beautiful, how these women could think of the knees, that bear weight, rather than the feet? Could it be an unbearable weight, or could it be a prayer on knees, to this humble and patient species? One wonders.
On the right, we have the Palau first-born ceremony, where I show a Toluk, originally a vessel made by soaking and fusing turtle shells, that eventually became a female-only currency that’s passed on to the daughters and granddaughters as a financial security during their weddings. Isn’t it amazing that a backbone (turtle shell), becomes a metaphorical economic backbone for this daughter who receives it? I show a newly minted mother, at her first born ceremony, where she is bathed in turmeric and coconut oil, by her fellow women, and made to walk on coconut mats laid down by her sisters, with her baby, and gives her first milk, or colostrum to the new born, This ceremony, incidentally, has conch music going on in the background, and no men are allowed to attend the function. Young girls are thus enamored by this display of female sisterhood, and the miracle of sustenance and beauty of motherhood. Hence I painted a young girl along with this mother, to signify a strong and powerful future.
Another subtle compositional detail in this painting is the directionality of objects. You will see that I have arranged all objects as upward facing arrows, sloping down on both sides, that was not intentional at first, but naturally evolved and became apparent as I painted the grandmother and the young girl. The whole painting can also be considered as a vertrbrae, or a fish bone, maybe? Maybe it’s a remnant of Matsya? It is also interesting to note the pattern from my Matsya, which is about divers incepting an oyster, the process of conceiving a pearl, and Koorma is about gestation, or pregnancy and child birth. Some details I plan, and some evolve.
With all these details complete, I paint the main deity, who touches the tortoise to create the backbone, Goddess Pachamama. Yes, she is the lady whose spiral stone gets stolen in the movie Moana. As I have mentioned earlier, Pachamama being underground, bearing weight, and nurturing the earth inside her stomach, made me paint her as a connecting point for all the different and diverse elements of this painting. Pachamama as the Sun and moon as her breasts, ever sustaining life with her kindness and grace. She is also painted with warmer tones on her right and cool tones on the left, like our earth, where one half has day and one half has the night. It is also conducive to Africa on the west and south Pacific on the east, like Mother earth herself. Another sweet little synchronicity to note.
Overall, this painting has been the most challenging in terms of execution, as I was bombarded with so many details during my research. Here are few important links that I used while making this painting.