Pushpa Kumari (India b.1969) uses the symbolism of Mithila painting to explore the theme of natural disaster on an epic scale. In this powerful image, inspired by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the ravaging waters have the face of a vengeful goddess, likely to be Kali, the fierce goddess of change and destruction.

The goddess instils in the disaster a sense of mythological force, above the stylised waves sweeping away people, animals and objects.

The simple border intensifies each detail — the floating basket of fruit, the small hands reaching up from below the water, the woman giving birth as her companion disappears beneath an engulfing wave.

Dating from at least the 14th Century, Mithila painting and drawing was traditionally practised by women in the Mithila region of Bihar in northern India and Nepal.

Mithila works are characterised by intricate line drawing, geometric patterns and elaborate symbolism — fish represent fertility, peacocks are associated with love, and serpents with divinity. For centuries it was used to mark rituals and ceremonies, particularly weddings, and created mostly on the walls of people’s homes.

Kumari retains the distinctive styles and conventions of Mithila painting while addressing new subjects such as women’s rights in India.

Exhibited in 'The 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art' (APT8) | 21 Nov 2015 – 10 Apr 2016


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