Bindu in Contemporary Indian Art

Bindu in Contemporary Indian Art

  • Posted on: April 13, 2015
  • By:

Rati Agnihotri

At a basic level, art awakens the senses of the viewer or the passer-by. A layperson gazing at a work of art might not be able to appreciate its nuances but he/she is nevertheless affected by the work. The images, in case of symbolic or expressionist art might trigger off associations in his /her consciousness that would send him/her off to some deep seated island in his/her personal history. To put it simply, art connects at an intuitive level. At the root of art lies intuition and emotion and thus spirituality. Abstract art embodies spirituality in its very essence. When there are no tangible images and objects one can identify, then what one gets is the purest representation of the social reality through a maze of geometric patterns, colours and lines. This symbolic universe is spiritual in its geometric abstraction and in its search for a pure form.

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Sayed Haider Raza, Peetabh, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 39.5 x 39.5″

Bindu or dot is considered the origin of everything in Indian philosophy. It is the origin of the universe, the point of concentration and the focal point of all creative energies. It is the nucleus from which all things start emanating. This bindu in contemporary Indian art creates a new language of abstraction. Syed Haider Raza, the phenomenal Indian artist was the first one to have used the bindu. It is said that once when he couldn’t concentrate in his class, his teacher asked him to concentrate on a bindu. And this bindu or dot came back to Raza many years later. In 1970’s, he shifted from expressionist landscapes to the bindu. It became the central motif in Raza’s work around which revolved various other geometric symbols representing elements of Indian philosophy.

For Raza, Bindu also represents the great Indian artistic tradition. According to him, all art forms have to be seen in terms of historical continuity. And Bindu in art for him then becomes the focal point of his artistic discipline. He sees his art as strongly rooted in Hindu philosophy and Bindu helps him explore different dimensions of that philosophy. As noted art critic and Hindi poet Ashok Vajpayee puts it, “Raza is an artist of essences.” Vajpayee further goes on to elaborate that Raza is not interested in history in terms of tangible events or happenings. He is interested in the origins of everything. And Bindu then becomes that point of historical origin.

For Raza, all artworks operate in tandem with each other, not in isolation. All artworks are a part of the tradition and there are organic links between all. Hence, the bindu is also symbolic of that internal harmony, continuity and unity. And as the artist’s perspective undergoes evolution, the bindu too evolves.

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Sayed Haider Raza, Pancha Tatava, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 22 x 30″

Colours are the spirit of Raza’s work. The 5 basic colours – blue, yellow, black, red and white represent the 5 elements of Indian philosophy. In Raza’s work, the synergy of the colours and their interaction with one another is very important. The colours are never static, they are always in a state of mutual dialogue, and yet, there is no state of conflict in the work. The resultant peace though is not a static one, not that of resignation but one that resonates with energy. The bindu is the focal point of the entire work and within the individual squares too, it is the centre. The bindu in Raza’s work is mostly black in colour, black, according to Raza being the point of culmination of all colours. Looking at a typical Raza work is like taking a journey within one’s own mind. The black bindu or dot is the starting point or the point of focus. From the bindu, one gets the feel of walking through different layers of one’s consciousness. Raza’s work is fascinating in its unique geometric abstraction. Raza’s unique style and his experimentation with the bindu over the years has enabled him develop a distinct syntax, almost like a science in its own right. And the bindu is the nucleus of this science, as it were. One has to study the painter and his works for years and years to arrive at a wholesome perspective.

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Bharti Kher, Target Queen, 2014, instllation view, mural, 18 x 18 m, Image courtesy the artist and Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai

Bharti Kher is yet another Indian artist who makes use of the bindu in her work. She is a multidisciplinary artist who makes extensive use of the bindi in her work. Kher makes use of multi-layered and multi-coloured bindis to create paintings and installations. Bindu in the form of bindi in Kher’s work is the centre of women’s identity, the centre that ties her down to societal norms, as it were. The bindi also represents a third eye, linking the spiritual and the material world.

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Bharti Kher, Border in red (detail), 2009, bindis on painted board, 202 cm x 152 cm

Kher makes use of bindis in a highly surreal fashion. Multi-coloured bindis in different shapes and sizes recur in concentric circles to create a seemingly chaotic universe, ironically self-contained in its very chaos. Kher’s bindi paintings and installations work at multiple levels. To begin with, the rich and vibrant colours draw in the viewer’s gaze strongly. And then, as one begins to look at the work closely, one gets to experience the magnanimity of the universe made of multiple bindus or focal points of energy as it were. It is also like viewing a woman’s world from close quarters, albeit with all its complexities and paradoxes.