A Circle of Our Own

Nov 2019 - Feb 2020

A Circle of Our Own

An Outdoor Sculptural Exhibition by Seema Kohli

Curated by Shaunak Mahbubani

Nov 2019 - Feb 2020, Sundar Nursery, New Delhi

Coordination and editing by Jackfruit Research; Exhibition Design by Ceejo Cyriac


Excerpt from the Curatorial Essay:

"The circle, one of the primary shapes known to humans, has held an important place within all indigenous cosmologies. According to Lakota legend, as skan caused the world to be made in fours, so he caused it to be made in rounds. The sun, the moon, the earth, and the sky are round. Everything in nature, save the rock, is round. Therefore, the circle is, for the Lakota people, a sacred symbol and could indicate the universe, the sun, time, or direction, depending upon its particular form and color. In the Buddhist tradition, the circle appears in the form of the wheel of dharma or the dharmachakra. This symbol gains significance through Shakyamuni Buddha's commencement of teaching called the turning of the wheel of dharma. The wheel has continued to hold prominence in the regions iconography, appearing on the Asoka pillars in Sarnath and Sanchi, chosen as centrepiece on the indian national flag, and adopted as a dalit-bahujan icon through Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism.

In Kohlis work too, the circle takes on multiple forms. We see it first as a symbology of creation within the paintings and drawings of the series the golden womb. The artists intricate style, straddling both traditional and contemporary schools of painting, speaks of an intuitive embodied understanding of the subjects she works with. Her engagement with the circular form continues with her investigation into the cyclical nature of life and death. This can be examined in her sculpture Nagabandha showing the interdependent nature of life and death in the entwined contours of the serpent's body. The sculpture has parallels in other cosmologies including the Egyptian ouroboros serpent that forms an infinite loop by eating its own tail, the sacred geometry of the flower of life and the structural form of a Celtic knot. The snake holds an important position within yogic iconography representing the kundalini or sacred energy held at the base of the spine. It is interesting here to note that the concept of the kundalini, which also makes an appearance in the bronze sculpture rising of kundalini, first arose as a central concept in Sakta tantric cults like the Kaula. This temporal connection binds a thread to the yoginis also seen in the exhibition. The symbology of the serpent is also seen in the towering sculpture Kalika, one of the largest in Kohlis oeuvre. Carved out of gambhari wood, the sculpture was inspired by the story of Krishna overpowering the serpent Kaliya. In Kohlis sculpture, the figure of Krishna is replaced by a benevolent female figure with her foot resting atop the golden womb. Her body is ornamented with intricately imagined flora and fauna, and in the centre of her chest stands the goddess kali. The protagonist is encircled by a twisted snake which she grasps in her outstretched hand. The figures powerful stance supported by the serpentine creature shows her command over the sacred kundalini energy. However her gentle expression and tellurian engravings reflect the connection and care for all species that balance the dominant side of energetic command. The artists ability to manifest this nuanced combination of contradictions provides a glimpse into such balance within her own life and practice."