Life moves from Water to land.

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

Koorma Avatar

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.

Tswana Woman Weaver
Palau Women

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.

References

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.

https://www.bowers.org/index.php/collection/collection-blog/toluk-palauan-women-s-valuables

https://blog.nativehope.org/native-american-animals-turtle-k%C3%A9ya

http://www.native-languages.org/legends-turtle.htm

https://kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.com/2013/08/hambukushu-people-africas-rain-makers.html?m=1

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/africa/botswana-married-women-gain-right-to-own-land/1977914#:~:text=Revised%20Botswana%20Land%20Policy%20of,land%20ownership%2C%20says%20President%20Masisi&text=For%20the%20first%20time%20married,Southern%20African%20country%20has%20announced

https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/j.2573-508X.2016.tb00088.x

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/311198

https://journals.worldnomads.com/lesleyvick/story/125121/Palau/First-Birth-Ceremony

In the beginning, there was water.

Deka, 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 saviors of earth, but epistemology has often ignored the contribution of them, typically labelling them as the weaker, dependent sex.

Matsya

Matsya Avatar of Vishnu
Matsya Avatar

Matsya– is the first Avatar of Vishnu, where he takes the shape of a fish to save the world from a deluge. Biblically similar to Noah’s ark, this first Avatar is typically equated with the genesis or the origin of life from the primordial waters. (All Images sourced from Wikipedia pages)

Ama Divers of Japan

My version of “Matsya” documents Ama pearl divers of Japan, who were women taught to dive early on in their childhoods, and developed physiological attributes conducive to deep sea diving without oxygen tanks. These women almost single-handedly drove the economy of Akoya pearls for quite a long while. The Pearls and the jewels of the sea is the offering of these brave hearts to this wonderful mankind.

Matsya – Painting Gallery

Matsya – About the Painting

The whole painting swirls around the theme of water. The painting aims to show the Amas diving to fetch life itself, from the hands of Tethys, the Greek goddess of waters, and Amma, the almost invisible Dogon Goddess who is the cosmic egg herself, breaking to reveal the spirals of stars and galaxies. The pisces constellation is represented by the two fishes in the spiral, and the pearls and abalones signifying the male and female, Pingala and Ida , the emergence of pearl on the right and the Yoni on left side of the painting.

These mythological figures help to describe the origins of life and its riches, being bestowed on humankind, for the grabbing of the divers, representing the pioneers of humankind. The duality of opposing male and female forces are represented by the opposing spirals on Tethys’s forehead and emerging from the loins of Amma. Tethys herself is shown with African features as life began there, with Amma shown androgynous. Opposing forces appear all through the painting.

The Spiral at the center of the painting is the spiral of time, that is tethered to the divers, and connects the humans with the divine. It serves as a symbol of spirituality, or a benevolent universal force that connects all life, human and divine. The inception of a pearl happens with the Ama reaching into an abalone to plant a grain of sand. This is so synonymous with the conception of life itself, with male planting a seed inside the female.

The turning whale and the Conch and the spiral serves as a tribute to Vishnu, with his lower half of a fish, along with his conch and chakra. The conch is specific to Japan, called Horagai, used by Buddhists for the sacred water-drawing festival, called as Omizutori.

Chakra is signified as universal consciousness while the conch sounds the arrival of life from the womb of Tethys. Incidentally, Lake Manasarovar, is considered to be the originator of all life, the primordial waters from the Tethys Sea, the original waterscape that surrounded Pangea, or the entire world in one continent. Later when the continents parted, it is believed that the remnant of Tethys sea got elevated along with the formation of the Himalayas, thus sealing the Tethys sea in the roof of the world.

The bamboo basket with two abalones is symbolic of Noah’s ark, that housed two lives of each species. The blue tinted pearls and the blue colour theme of the entire painting is an ode to Vishnu.

Overall, this painting is an embarking of a journey that connects patterns across mythologies, theories, civilizations, geographic locations and species, all rendered from a feminist perspective.

Five ways to improve your art game

So, you have been sketching/drawing/painting for a long time. Painting is life-affirming to you. But you feel that there’s room for improvement. If you feel that way, read on.

 You are self-taught, have some great ideas but are wondering how to bring it to life on canvas, read on.

When you try a painting, it is somewhat okay, but it is not quite what you visualised in your mind. Believe me, I feel like that all the time.  Read on.

I am by no means an expert artist, and I am learning every day, but I would like to help you with some information that I have gathered over my lifetime of painting, and past five years in a professional art career.

Having been in a corporate role, I plan to organize this blog post into functional, simple, straight-forward action-based tips and tricks.

No matter what subjects, mediums you work on, here are five actionable tips you must work on if you want to improve your art game.

  1. Drawing  

Drawing is the basement of the house of your painting. Drawing is the most important feature. As a painter, (not a sketcher) I find the drawing stage annoying, but I ensure I use all the tools to help me draw with perspective, scale and symmetry.

  • Scale – If you draw from a reference, use the grid technique or the doodle scrawl technique – for proper replication of scale and perspective.  If you are drawing from imagination, ensure the rules are followed, especially with Anatomy and geometry rules for flora/architecture. All these rules are freely available in google or you can purchase art textbooks. Some sample rules – A nose cannot extend below the ear ends, the distance between the tear glands must be equal to the eye width, etc.
  • Perspective – Drop everything and learn single point, 2 point and three-point perspectives. These are especially important to ensure your drawing looks dimensional. All these rules are freely available in google or you can purchase art/engineering drawing textbooks.  
  • Symmetry Do not draw asymmetrical works unless it is intended (like Picasso). Measure with your thumb and forefinger or a caliper, and replicate similar lengths as needed. If you don’t like doing it, as it will intrude your flow, at least step back from the drawing, view at it from a distance, and then adjust measures.

      Keep a sketchbook and draw everything you see. That’s one idea that always works. If you are lazy to practice, forget bettering your game. Painting is laborious, time intensive process that’s exhausting physically and mentally. But the rewards are superlative. Remember, painting is 80% planning in your mind, and 20% execution. If you are ready to put in 80%, 20% will automatically happen.

  1. Palette

I cannot stress the importance of a clean palette. If you have a palette that has not been washed in years, if you can’t make out the colors you are mixing, your painting will also go to an unknown destination. I suggest buying peel-off palette sheets– that is the easiest to use and clean. If you use any other palette, clean it regularly. Washing brushes and palettes take up most of my time, and I employ my husband and daughter to do them if I am not feeling up to it. In any case, before starting a painting, everything you use MUST BE CLEAN.

Keep plenty of fabric to wipe your brushes (especially if you use acrylic). After every water dip, your bristles will be loaded with water, so they won’t load the paint pigment properly. So, keep it clean and dry, folks. Also, Dry brush technique in acrylic is mesmerizing, so keep drying it!

  1. Intention

At the risk of sounding like a Baba, here’s a tip. Before you start, sit for 5 minutes, watch the surface you are about to paint. Bring your intention to it, ignore every single emotion about other things, just imagine you are another brush, painting the will of the Universe/God/love whatever you believe in. Do not have even a shred of ego that you are painting a masterpiece. You are simply following your intuition, the source of which is unknown and unfathomable. Let Go.

  1. Mistakes

       Do not panic if you make mistakes. I have made a career out of my mistakes, frankly. Welcome the mistakes, see how it adds to the narrative or takes away from the painting, and adjust accordingly. Some mediums are easy to correct, like acrylic. With oils, you can simply paint over, or wipe with turpentine and start again. Some mistakes are happy accidents that would lend a beautiful new meaning to the painting. So, open your mind.

  1. Critique

Negative feedback is a sketchy topic. But let me tell you why inviting critical feedback is important in your early career. It helps you focus straight on the problem and elevate your future artworks. It helps you become humbler, as humility will make you more open towards new ideas and perspectives, which will result in a richer art journey. Yes, your ego will be hurt. Yes, no one knows your painting like you do. Yes, you have painted for weeks and someone says something really mean. But yes, but it is also not yours to own. Yes, it is also your contribution to the world. Yes, it should also be as perfect as you intend it to be. I have a simple rule for critique. I don’t listen to the person’s tone; I simply listen to the content of the feedback. I think about it, give it enough time, and if it makes sense, I will make changes. If it takes away from the original idea behind the painting, I will respectfully disagree/ignore the feedback. If you want to grow, you must share your work, with all imperfections, and be willing to listen to critique.

So these were my top 5 tips.

If this blog helped you in anyway, I would love it if you can share it in your social media pages and direct people to my shop/gallery. I am very new to this blogging works, but I have some blogging aces like preethiprabhu.com and artsycraftsymom.com as my friends, so I am hoping this blog would become more and more beneficial and engaging going forward!!

Let me know in your comments if you liked this blog and would like to see more topics like this. I would love it if you register on my website, and you would get a 10% discount on my artworks and art prints!

Until my next one, stay weird, make some art.