Pushpa Kumari & Pradyumna Kumar (India)

Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA)

Pushpa Kumari and Pradyumna Kumar are Mithila artists. Dating from at least the fourteenth century, Mithila painting and drawing is an ancient art form traditionally practised by women in the Mithila region of Bihar in northern India and Nepal. For several centuries it was used to mark rituals and ceremonies, particularly weddings, and created mostly on the walls of homes. The Madhubani district is known for its artists, hence the form is sometimes referred to as Madhubani. The works are characterised by intricate line drawing, geometric patterns and elaborate symbolism.

Pushpa Kumari
Kumari is a younger generation Mithila artist who has retained the Mithila paintings’ distinctive styles and conventions while addressing new subjects such as women’s rights in India. Mithila painting has a highly developed symbolism – fish represent fertility, peacocks are associated with love, and serpents with divinity. It was closely linked with marriage and social ceremonies, with many paintings intended as instruction for newlyweds. 

Kumari’s works continue to draw on a strong theme of sexuality and the union between male and female. She was taught by her grandmother, the acclaimed Mithila artist Mahasundari Devi.

Prakriti is seated on the earth, her legs open to imply fertility, and branches grow from her shoulders. Her face is a single eye, and a larger eye is embraced by the male Purusha. Creation and fecundity are shown as intertwined and inseparable from the bodiless spirit.

Prakriti and Purusha are Sanskrit terms for eternal male and female elements. The terms come from a branch of Hindu philosophy associated with Tantric teachings. Purusha is male energy, and signifies spirit or consciousness. Prakriti is female, embodying the basic matter that constitutes the universe. The concepts are also found in classical literature such as the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, where they are often portrayed as two primordial lovers, Shiva and Shakti. Out of these two principles, it is believed that the world was born. 

In Prakriti-Purusha, Kumari shows Prakriti and Purusha as lovers, circled by a border of repeating motifs, with bodies entwined and two profiles making a single face.

Women in India
Pushpa Kumari draws on the iconography of Mithila wall paintings to create her own interpretations of traditional stories and historical events, and to reflect on issues facing many women in regional communities in India. 'Saving the girl child' employs images of fecundity and Mother Nature — often used in Mithila painting to celebrate marriages and union — to protest against the death of female babies, who are often regarded as a burden to their parents in parts of India, in contrast to sons, whose births are often celebrated.

Dowry comments on the dowry system, officially illegal, but still very common in India. Dowries can include goods, cash, property or other items that the bride’s family agrees to give to the groom and his relatives as a condition of the marriage.

Tragically, dowry deaths occur as a result of this system, when young women are either murdered or driven to suicide by the harassment and torture of their in-laws in an effort to extort an increased dowry.

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

Wind (the beautiful maiden with her flowing hair) address stories of love and union from Hindu mythology. Wind (the beautiful maiden with her flowing hair) illustrates the story of Sita, from the Hindu epic the Ramayana, in which Sita is abducted by the demon king Ravana, and the narrative follows Rama and his brother on their journey to find her. Sita’s birthplace was said to be in Bihar, the home of Mithila painting, and she is sometimes referred to as the princess of Mithila.

Surya and Sangya (The Story of the sun and his wife) depicts a story in which Sangya, the daughter of a sage and the goddess of clouds, is married to the sun, Surya. At first she is very happy, but she becomes frightened when Surya’s heat becomes too great as his power and arrogance grows.

She runs away from him and takes the form of a horse roaming the earth. He searches for her and also becomes a horse so he may go near her. During this time they fall in love once again and remain as husband and wife.

Prem Jalkida (The Intoxication of love and attraction) shows two lotus flowers with human faces bending towards each other. The lotus flower is very significant in Hindu culture, particularly associated with Vishnu, Brahma and Lakshmi. Growing from the mud to become something of supreme beauty, its perfect form is seen as a symbol of fertility, divinity and prosperity, as well as a promise of spirituality and eternity. Beneath the flowers, two peacocks (associated with love in Mithila symbolism) appear entwined, resting on the gently undulating water.

Bararsingha - The balance of Life shows two deer intertwined, with branches instead of horns on their heads. The theme of union is an important one in Mithila painting, and Pradyumna Kumar here explores the fusion between plant and animal forms, representing the interconnectedness of life and nature.

Pradyumna Kumar India  b.1969
Mithila artworks were traditionally painted only by women. As artists transferred the customary designs to paper, the art forms have changed and developed in turn. A younger generation now address political and feminist themes and public issues as well as traditional stories, and — for the first time — a group of talented male artists have begun to create works in the Mithila style. Pradyumna Kumar is part of this first generation of male artists.

Mango Tree of Life refers to a ceremony in which young men are symbolically married to a sacred mango tree.

Pradyumna Kumar is Pushpa Kumari’s brother-in-law. He began painting in 2002 under her tutelage and is one of the first generation of male artists to practice this form.

'The 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art' (APT8)
Credits: Story

Since 1993, The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT) has been the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art's flagship contemporary art series. APT has driven the Gallery's focus on the region and enabled the development of one of the world's most significant collections of contemporary Asian, Pacific and Australian art.

The 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT8)
21 November 2015 – 10 April 2016

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