The Ten Transcendental Wisdoms of Kali
This series of works once again portrays the classical Indian dancer, who uses the aspect of mime, gesture and posture from the style of Bharatnatyam. Here she portrays the Dasa Mahavidyas (Ten transcendental wisdoms) of the goddess Kali. In this the goddess moves between terrifying, nurturing, fearful and benevolent manifestations. The dancer wears variations of dance costumes that would traditionally be worn during rehearsals, and not for performance. To these costumes I have added a waist hanging, which is the tongue of Kali. This idea draws on the tongue worn solely by male dances in the folk dance style of Kerala called Muttiyettu, which is performed as an invocation to Kali. In this folk style, only men are allowed to perform, and the waist hanging is meant to represent the tongue of Kali that laps up the demon’s blood from the battle field. In these photographic works the tongue also speaks very directly to the idea of the vagina, this exaggerated tongue hanging around the performer’s waist becomes a phallic reference to female power, almost like an exaggerated clitoris. The other addition to my dancer is the smearing of the natural pigments that are used in Hindu worship rituals. These pigments have now moved from the canvasses of my paintings to the physical body. Here they are meant to relate state of being of the different versions of the goddess. The red is used for the more ferocious goddesses and the white for the most terrifying goddess known as Dhumavati. This ash smeared goddess seems to recur in my production, where before she was represented by an ash covered canvas with an abstracted stitched sword, she has now become a physical presence. Traditionally, she is said to represent the lowest and most horrific stage of existence, she is described as the widow. However, my intention is to change this perception of the figure of the widow from one that is usually shunned (within a Hindu belief system) to a powerful terrifying and fearsome goddess. Here the addition of the red tongue against this smokey white figure comes to represent her power and supremacy. This image represents the stripping away of her clothes and jewellery, a symbolic stripping of material existence with a focus on the red tongue, referring to her power and control over time and creation, over ego and human existence. She is both destructive and creative. This series of photographic works was part of a bigger project held recently in three venues in Johannesburg called The Two Talking Yonis – a solo exhibition by Reshma Chhiba in conversation with Nontobeko Ntombela. The photographs are an exploration of my interest in finding a meeting point between my obsession with classical Indian dance and my visual art practice.
Reshma Chhiba, born in 1983, lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa. She holds a BA degree in Fine Arts (2005) and an MAFA (2013), University of the Witwaterand. Chhiba also holds a diploma in Bharatanatyam (2002), a classical Indian dance style. Joint winner of the Wits School of Arts Martienssen Prize 2003, she was selected by the Goethe Institut (2007) to work as an art mediator at Documenta 12, in Kassel, Germany. In 2008 she held her debut solo exhibition Kali- Art Extra. She has participated in numerous group shows, including Impossible Monsters – Art Extra (2007); Self/Not Self – Brodie Stevenson (2009); Domestic – GoetheonMain (2009), This is not a Porn Song – Aardklop (2010), Alterating Conditions: Performing Performance Art in South Africa – GoetheonMain (2011), [Working Title] – Goodman Cape (2012), and others. Chhiba recently held a solo exhibition in conversation with Nontobeko Ntombela entitled The Two Talking Yonis at three different venues in Johannesburg. In 2010 she co-founded the Sarvavidya Natyaalaya (SVN), a classical Indian dance school specializing in Bharatanatyam in South Africa.