White Butterflies

Night falls, hazy and purple. Vague green and mauve luminosities persist behind the tower of the church. The road ascends full of shadows, of bells, of the fragrance of grass, of songs, of weariness, of desire. Suddenly a dark man wearing a cap and carrying a pick, his face red for an instant in the light of his cigarette, comes toward us from the wretched hut that is lost in piles of coal sacks. Platero is afraid.

“Carring anything?”

“See for yourself… White butterflies.”

The man wants to stick his iron pick in the little basket, and I do not prevent him. I open the knapsack, and he sees nothing in it. And the food for soul passes, candid and free without paying tribute to customs. [1]

Catalytic texts, insightful texts, soulful texts in the history of written language have changed many things in the way of looking at language system and its signs. The language used for translating and communicating thoughts into verbal or visual, verbal to visual or visual to verbal representations; has transgressed and overlapped several times. Often, as we know these representations are encrusted by metaphors (a figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity) and allegories (an expressive style that uses fictional characters and events to describe some subject by suggestive resemblances). In the process more meaning than what was intended by the author/auteur /artist originally, begins to generate. This is where the created piece transcends its periphery and reaches a possibility of infinite renditions. In a work of art all these ideas paired and fluxed with visually enticing cognition of images determine poignancy of the ‘form’.

Every work of art has form, is an organism. It’s most essential feature is the character of inevitability- that nothing could be changed or moved from its place, but that all must be as it is’ [2]

In the Principles of Art History Wölfflin formulated five pairs of opposed or contrary principles in the form and style of art of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which demonstrated a shift in the nature of artistic vision between the two periods; videlicet, linear as opposed to painterly, plain to recession, closed (tectonic) form to open (a-tectonic) form, multiplicity to unity and absolute clarity to relative clarity. His influence on art theory can be identified in at least three major ways. First, a demonstration of disciplinary breadth that combined both traditional and innovative theories. Second, he applied a comparative method of visual analysis, third, he insisted upon the primacy of vision.

These directions by Wölfflin were specific to his study of subject matter that is art of 16th and 17th century; these however appear as relevant tools of formalistic analysis of contemporary art practices as well. This is to enounce, that cogitation of works of Rakhi Peswani, an assuring young artist, are possible through both conventional and innovative possibilities.

“The problematic area that I am currently addressing (and that I wish to work on further ahead) is also to locate sculptural as well as time based media within the discourses of traditional practices. These elements, equally pertinent in traditional practices get shadowed by the final outcome which essentially works along the dictates of visual showing and telling. The inability of the visual to articulate cryptic areas of time based practices is something that I am currently occupying myself with”. - Rakhi Peswani

‘Current Preoccupation’s. (2007)

Contrarily to the Wölfflin-ish idea that the most essential feature is the character of inevitability of the ‘form’ in art and that nothing could be changed or moved from its place, Rakhi’s works constantly pose a challenge to surpass restrictions of the form.

Since her art works are indicants of her engagement with paronomasia-with-images and the meanings associated with the same, Rakhi moves back and forth anachronistically for reference images from Renaissance to Dada to coeval non-art objects, delving into the past and present of visual archives to create new statements and legitimize them grounding on her observations and realizations.

Art works of Rakhi indisputably demand attention from the viewer to be deciphered. While reading her works it is absolutely necessary to closely observe the set of images that she is working with, since each image appears with its baggage of cultural, social and literal quondam. Rakhi’s recent body of nine works, some of which would be anagrammatised through the essay by means of theoretical, cultural and retentive references; are incisively named as Poetics of desire - the Birth of Language, Seductive Myths of Lightness, three Studies on retention or As You Sew - Some notes on the Magic of Making. These suggest a contemporary tendency of creative tension, occurring through the efforts to reach relative clarity of equation between ideas and their substantiality. Rakhi’s works, simultaneously demonstrate anxieties towards tracing utmost possibilities out of the materials, meanings attached to the same, images projected through them and the final significances that are produced.

Poetics of Desire - the Birth of Language

The surficial connotation of the diction in the title and the work suggests anamorphism in verbalised and visual language. The hand embroidered triptych on cotton fabric with mirrors, furry woollen fabric and appliqué work measures 64” x 42” approximately and a little smaller than 72” x 48”. One of the three panels holds an image of a vase (can be read as metaphorical womb) with a foetus or heart shaped image within and there is a lot of empty space around containing the phrase “Eros, c’est la vie”-”Sex, that’s life”, a Duchampian pun that came up when the Dada artists were posing in feminine attires and taking up pseudonyms for their own female persona. This work of Rakhi’s also holds the alphabets drafted out as E, S, S, E, N, C. These form a lexigraphy and lead the viewer to play a mind game; like in scrabble. Alter or deduct the arrangements of the letters and read; SENSE, SCENE OR SCENES, SEEN and so on. Text when juxtaposed with image in such a fashion creates innumerable open ends and more significantly sets the interpretation free of confinements. Another panel of the same work shows a Dürer-esque portrait and with mirror works construing alphabets arranged in a derelict order; A, B, E, S, E, N, C. This, at once reads ABSENCE and the third panel displays P, R, S, E, E, C, N, E the viewer can mentally rearrange the order into PRESENCE.

Anatomical Construction of Ideas

This 10’ x 4’ work is fashioned in hand embroidery on coarse moth silk fabric with mirrors creating a reflective surface texture on the rectangular piece filling in the word REFLECTION and cotton fabric forbackingalong with graphite drawing of hands. The ‘hand’ images are appropriation of those of Albrecht Dürer’s and Grunewald’s drwaings. Some of the hands in the work are completely embroidered while some a left incomplete intentionally. The work when displayed at the eye level would allow the viewer to find her/his reflection broken into hundred pieces of mirror bubbles. One can also read them as thought bubbles or the minutest particle of matter coming together to form the entire anatomy. The mirrors meticulously placed function both as texture and idiom on the surface. Apart, mirror is an object which speaks about vanity and prejudice, particularly, the object has been visually represented in art as tool for gaze virtually or otherwise and which more often than not, was devised as a mediator of coercion of the viewer over the viewed. The work conventionally follows a linear pattern but simultaneously creates open ends for visual interpretations.

‘…masculinity and femininity are not which designate a ‘given’ and separate entity, men and women, but are simply two terms of difference. In this sense patriarchy does not refer to the static oppressive domination of one sex over another, but to a web of psychological relationships which institute a socially significant difference on the axis of sex which is so deeply located in our very sense of lived, sexual identity that it appears to us as natural and unalterable.’[3]

Subtlety in the nuances of devising one artistic language that is capable of creating a seamless syntax of signifiers and signified is an attribute that Rakhi’s art works live up to. Rakhi uses materials, which exhibit her indulgences towards cognizing ideas around ‘feminine’ or ‘femininity’; examining diachronic modernist notions of art posed against craft duality (where art equates to masculinity therefore rational/cerebral, whereas craft to that of the feminine and therefore emotional) and probing proliferations of visual language by uprooting the image of an object from its established socio-cultural etyma and, replacing it within a different context. All these occur through artistically exploring meanings attached to objects that are socially and culturally attached to the aforesaid concepts for ages, yet have not exhausted in the process, through materials such as appliqué, hand -embroidery or moga silk fabric, galvanized iron wire, wood, feathers, velvet fabric, gauze, safety pins, rope, organza flowers and many more. These materials in the works are used consciously, which are identified as intrinsic characters attached to femininity for ages.

As You Sew - Some Notes on the Magic of Making

The work is mounted on a wall in eight shelves, each shelf measuring 8’ x 8” x 8”. This is made out of wooden shelves, mixed media with hand embroidery, sewing tools, glass frames, ropes, threads and other miscellaneous objects. The title suggests an age old axiom and the construct of the work gives an impression of any obscure but intimate feminine corner framed by shelves which taxonomically archives mundane objects used in a domestic spheres. Each shelf holds documentary narratives such as fabric made blades stretched on a translucent screen, pins pierced on a small pillow, or buttons stitched to a piece of velvet, drawing of ants on a white piece of cloth. Each row of shelf is a metaphor for the spine in an abstract manner; one of which carries fake eyes and one among which is struck by a blade. This stealthily cites violence generated in the course of discovering aesthetics. The motif of spine appears consistently in Rakhi’s other works.

After many long discussions at night in their crowded bed, the two boys finally worked out a pact. They would toss a coin. The loser would go down into the nearby mines and, with his earnings, support his brother while he attended the academy. Then, when that brother who won the toss completed his studies, in four years, he would support the other brother at the academy, either with sales of his artwork or, if necessary, also by labouring in the mines.

They tossed a coin on a Sunday morning after church. Albrecht Durer won the toss and went off to Nuremberg.

… When the young artist returned to his village, the Durer family held a festive dinner on their lawn to celebrate Albrecht’s triumphant homecoming. After a long and memorable meal, punctuated with music and laughter, Albrecht rose from his honoured position at the head of the table to drink a toast to his beloved brother for the years of sacrifice that had enabled Albrecht to fulfil his ambition. His closing words were, “And now, Albert, blessed brother of mine, now it is your turn. Now you can go to Nuremberg to pursue your dream, and I will take care of you.”

All heads turned in eager expectation to the far end of the table where Albert sat, tears streaming down his pale face, shaking his lowered head from side to side while he sobbed and repeated, over and over, “No”

Finally, Albert rose and wiped the tears from his cheeks. he glanced down the long table at the faces he loved, and then, holding his hands close to his right cheek, he said softly, “no, brother. I cannot go to Nuremberg. It is too late for me. Look ... look what four years in the mines have done to my hands! The bones in every finger have been smashed at least once, and lately I have been suffering from arthritis so badly in my right hand that I cannot even hold a glass to return your toast, much less make delicate lines on parchment or canvas with a pen or a brush. No, brother ... for me it is too late.” [4]

On the Rules of the Game

The passage above has little factual authenticity, but the narrative is alluding. The significance behind choosing human hands as a subject of study might be an admired act by artists in several periods in the history; occasionally this happened more for personal immanent reasons than anything else. However, while reading a work which emphasizes parts of human body as image (in this case usage of hand images by Rakhi) requires reasoning the reference. The same necessarily need not have direct connections to the work, rather it might manipulate the subconscious to surface and form a work, which is capable of generating diametrically contrary meanings.

This is a diptych again made in hand embroidery and appliqué on monga silk and velvet fabric. These panels display two hands engaged in the act of stitching and a line of text in each. One of them stating every Stitch is also a trick and the other every Stitch is also a prick. Both the panels display images in similar activity and both show a detailed depiction of hands. Hands have reappeared as a subject matter for study ever since the renaissance till date. Rakhi depicted the same along with the text syntactically weaving a complex chronicle with proverbial precisions. Like all her works this one too isloadedwith metaphors and seeks to open ends for reading. The work is a ground where two dimensional space is capable of catering a text- image diesis for the viewer. The text and a pun with the same, in her works are not just complimentary tools of the visuals/ images but they are catalytic in nature, which exalt the work independently by their unique characters. A viewer is left with an option to engage with the ‘text’ solely because of the pictorial nature attained only with extrapolated/multiple connotations of the same.

Icarus is a character in Greek mythology. He is the son of Daedalus and is commonly known for his attempt to escape Crete by flight, which ended in a fall to his death. Latin poets read the myth more philosophically, most of the time linking Icarus analogically to artists.

Seductive Myths of Lightness - Sightscapes of an Insomniac I and Seductive Myths of Lightness - Sightscapes of an Insomniac II

The works are sequels, one in golden and the other in blue, both creating symphony with light that is manipulated through the coloured fabric and visually wraithlike verses from poems. The first work in golden, called Seductive Myths of Lightness - Sightscapes of an Insomniac II, is of dimensions 7’ x 4’ x 7’ and is a single bed space with a wooden bench inside to allow only one person at a time to lie down on it. The bench, measuring 8” x 22” x 60”, in the middle of the enclosed space, is a provision left for the viewer to lie down and watch the translucent golden walls, the appliquéd images on them and watch the distorted Baconesque sculptural, body/armature hovering on top from its ceiling, where Rakhi has quoted Rilke. The two works are like anti-thesis to each other; exploring intricacies of reasoning, imagination and exhaustion. The work is made in organza fabric, cotton fabric, satin fabric, fake fur, velvet fabric, wool, iron armature, galvanized wire. The golden work of the sequence shapes a space that is generally occupied by a single bed. The golden organza fabric holds silhouettes of falling figures, a pair of feather made wings placed near to the skeletal form, reminds of the morbid myth of Icarus. The plight of every creative soul to fly but failure in the process ends in disillusionment. A severed braid hanging in the middle of shadowy images of figures similar to that of Hieronymous Bosch, (who produced some of the spectacular innovative paintings on fantasy that have ever existed) creates an eerily surreal ambience.

The exotic of the blue work called Seductive Myths of Lightness - Sights capes of an insomniac I, is executed with organza fabric, cotton Fabric, wooden bench, galvanized iron wire, gauze, velvet fabric, satin fabric, feathers. This one is a large, blue 7’ x 7’ x 7’ work with an eye encaged within an armature bound globe-like brain in blue. Motifs like scissor and needle construe the space with culture specificity. The work stands like an uncanny organism, capable of engulfing more than one person. Precisely, this is the work which is large enough to allow people to roam inside and experience the form that defines ‘space’ by diddling with light, colour, and transparency. The work in some way, reminds one of the noir genre in films; sharing the dark, ambiguous and phantasmal nature.

The 19th century French historian, Ernest Renan, characterized the conceptual shift that took place during the 18th century as a change from being to becoming. At the beginning of the century, it was believed that an immutable god had created a static nature and given us an absolute revelation of himself in Scripture. Natural theology, utilizing Lockean sensationalism, justified studying nature as a means of learning about god. This approach undermined the authority of Scripture by giving primacy to reason and by linking particular theological views to specific scientific theories. When those static theories, emphasizing being, gave place in the 19th century to more dynamic explanations, the theological views were viewed as having also been overturned. The scientific theories of the French philosophies, relying on a different view of Locke, eliminated god and revelation. Their theories, however, displayed the characteristics associated with becoming that would determine the direction of 19th century science. The theological position associated with becoming was developed by John Wesley. Looking at Locke in yet a third way, Wesley tried to validate a continuing, dynamic revelation of god. But this revelation was subjective, and according to Locke, incapable of being communicated to another individual. In a culture that valued scientific objectivity, subjective religious knowledge was irrelevant. Thus the 18th century, while not presenting Christian theology with major scientific challenges in the form of theories, did raise basic epistemological questions, and science provided the answers that proved to be acceptable. [5]

Being and Becomings - (K)nights of Slow Mutations

The work stands in satin fabric, cotton fabric, acrylic stuffing, organdie fabric, rope, hand embroidery, gauze, organza flowers, galvanized iron wire, safety pins. Dimensions of the work vary when installed providing it a malleability that lets it grow like an organism. This shows a pair of pillows, one of which suggests a spine, creating a macabre sensitization beneath the speck-less white pillow cover. This, very artistically is construed by knots on a rope. The second pillow shows a pair of bird’s feet; probably any bird of prey, the feet grow up into dead branches of trees. Above hangs again a brain like form which also puns into an ‘earth’ which is exploding open. The form is made out of gauze and armature. The exploding earth, universal spine (read self/ being) is under the mercy of claws of circumstances and contrarily to modernist belief of ‘science triumphs alone’ the work expresses vulnerability, futility and limitations of the ever expanding convinced ‘self’ which in reality exists with a satisfaction derived out of pseudo-power.

“The thematic concerns as of now have developed over a period of peripatetic life in various Indian cities, simultaneously layered within a middle class upbringing disciplined through the practice of needle work. This small personal discovery allows me to layer this with other necessities that a liberal, capitalist economy offers. Simplistically, while providing more and more to consume, it is simultaneously expanding the needs with an ever growing discontentment…”- Rakhi Peswani. (2007)

This statement from the artist specifically locates the source, class, locale and conditions of her creative impulses, but intimate engagement while studying her works reveal a universality that is present in them; this ensures the potential of translatability in the works, which transcends the aforementioned conditions, consequentlysucceeding inthe purpose of expression/ communication. Where ‘discontentment’ is a reason to create, to change, to move away from the points of inception, the purpose of creating art would direct towards escapades for the artistic mind from the state of quandaries. Perceptive , articulated Rakhi Peswani’s art works tend to surpass limitations posed by mediums, their conventional understandings, quondam images and memories simultaneously, sympathizing with effacing purpose of all these for the sake of evolution.


[1] From ‘Platero and I’ By Juan Ramón Jiménez

[2] From Principles of Art History by Heinrich Wölfflin.

[3] From Vision and Difference by Griselda Pollock

[4] From a fictional anecdote, unknown source; http://www.barefootsworl albrechtdurer.html

[5] From ‘Being to Becoming: Science and theology in the eighteenth Century’; Sara Joan Miles, History and Biology Departments; Wheaton College; Wheaton IL.
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