The ordinary does not interest her, nor does anything simple. A self-trained artist, Seema Kohli’s exhaustive practice spans over three decades, a time she has spent creating a new identity; reshaping belongings and intimacy. Matter and memory constitute the visual language of her work. Her art has embraced a variety of mediums, including painting, sculpture, installation and performance. And as testimony to her unrelenting zeal to explore complex themes, is her latest show, ‘In Silence the Secrets Speak’, in the city at the Gallery Veda, which is a continuation of her series, ‘The Unending Dance of Light, Raks-eShams’. It was earlier shown as a collaborative solo show at the Kochi Muziris Biennale, followed by a display at the Venice Biennale.
“‘In Silence the Secrets Speak’ emphasises the cyclical nature of existence and the rejuvenation of life through the eternal processes of birth, death and rebirth,” says Kohli. Animated by a vigorous female energy, the idea is depicted through anything that exists, exuding wonder and celebration, pulling elements from other cultures, traditions and her own imagination, creating a vast, vibrant tapestry of work in different media, from painting, video, sculpture and drawing to etchings and serigraphs. The paper works in pen and ink on tea stained paper and etchings portray “the whole universe arising out of a teacup” – there are also coat hangers, ladders, a table laid for tea, clocks and egg timers.
Paintings with layering on washes of bright hues overflow with colour and energy. Wings, feathers, lotuses, roots, trees with bird shaped leaves, fish, clouds, curling tongues of water, gold dots, representing consciousness and the sublime, populate each canvas. “The video of ‘Unending Dance of Light’ is about energy recouping, re-forming, and moving on. Death is not the end; it is rather an energy changing direction, coursing on again, in a different form and space. The seven-part meditation on death, birth and the journey of the soul, was filmed on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi, the sacred City of Light,” explains Kohli, whose series also includes a10 x 24 ft canvas with 24 ct gold and silver leaf in the lobby of hotel Park Hyatt, which will become a permanent installation.
Her works can be seen as public art at the Delhi International Airport, Mumbai International/ Domestic Airport, the Defence Ministry, Tata Residency, Tata Steel, Jindal Steel, Manipal University and hotels in New Delhi. She has participated in prestigious art fairs and Biennales in Hong Kong, Venice, Spain and Beijing while also receiving several national and international awards.
Engaging with a wide circuit of references like religious iconography, mythology, philosophy and literature, Kohli weaves together a story to recover the lost feminine narrative in cultural history. Her work is primarily a celebration of the female form and energy, the source of the twin forces of creation and destruction. But she says she isn’t consciously trying to send out a message. “As an artist, my main concern is what I do with my inner self. I am really not into changing the world, but if it changes by looking at my work, that is because, as I say, love is the weapon of the future and I talk only about love. I talk about recycling of positive energies,” she says. The aspects of continuity, repetition, vulnerability, duration, temporality, awareness, situation and public involvement are also inherent qualities that inform her art practice.
For Kohli, her art is an engagement with the philosophical enquiry into life. It is through the visual language of art that she tries to grasp the truth of existence. She says, “The trees, the plants on my balcony, the people around me, the breeze, the ocean – everything inspires me – as a new world gets created on a small piece of paper or a canvas. My life and my work go hand in hand: there is absolute transparency between us and we are a reflection of each other.”