Mala Marwah essays

It will be observed that the strength of artistic Memory lies in its power to transform the subject of its inspiration. Far from being merely reflective, such memory makes it possible to recount an incident in a new context with fresh significance. Much more than representation is required to refascinate this experience; in this would seem to lie a trial and passion common to a large section of modern art. The work of Madhvi Parekh presents the result of such an experience with refreshing lack of assumption, and it will become increasingly clear how her stylistic attitude supports this.

Madhvi was born and grew up in the village of Sanjaya, Gujarat. Her immediate reference was familiar; the life of the village - with few urban influences, although they formed a part of this surround - with its inclusive life-style and pace, also carried the unchanging sequence of fields being watered, old men at the hookah, the singing during the harvest; and details as the paintings of stories from the Ramayana on the dome of the Swami-Narayan Temple at Vadatal, the feeling for colour and motif in rural crafts, textiles, toys, with their welter of animal and organic images, became a familiar and enlivening element.

To consider these instances is hardly to suggest a direct parallel; at the same time, our relation to the spaces and objects we recognize and live with may often influence our sense of arrangement and order, and although we happen to imbibe certain elements to the exclusion of others we yet forward something basic and intimate through them. In the ultimate, it is the new energy we bring to such an experience that determines its present meaning. The chief factor here is the development of style Madhvi's materials (as oils, inks, pastels) are not the only disparate element; the scale she works on, the divisions of space, the very world she invokes have changed, and are different from, that of the folk artist.

Never having received formal training in art, Madhvi's earliest experiments were encou­raged by her painter husband Manu Parekh, and took the form of exercises in pen and ink, progressing from dots, lines and squares into small but animated drawings. This early work carries some of the expression and content that finds maturity in her later - and present - paintings. Madhvi begin to paint in 1969, using pastels and oils on canvas. She brings an unhindered approach to the actual activity of painting; but the overall design and sensitive arrangement of the smallest detail evince her intuitive sense of order, and her paintings remain, for all their delicate mosaic-like effect, strong and clear.

In this exhibition of her recent paintings and drawings several features are common to both, Chief among these is the presence of the frontal, centrally-placed figure, whether human or animal, surrounded by a bright sky or landscape, and always by a variety of organic images. In certain cases we observe the 'pregnant' figure - also a feature of her earlier work - one form encloses another, or other, finely-worked figures or symbols - as a fish, a bird, a child. (One human being becomes a puppet in the hands of another; the strings attaching the two hold the cosmos together.) The element of story-telling in Madhvi's work, the ordering of a variety of incidents, people, creatures and objects creates a world crammed with activity, rather like a curious play.

The element of narration, the relation of one incident to another, however simple, follows back into one of the oldest traditions, that of communicating an occasion or series of events visually. This tendency to narrate, as has been mentioned, is not a small feature of Madhvi's work, and in fact directs the very composition of her paintings. At this point it must also be said that where we cannot regard the subject-matter in her paintings as 'unfolding' in a sequential manner so as to suggest a formal narrative, we see her incli­nation to describe specific creatures performing particular activities with simultaneity, where numbers of minutely described events take place regardless of time and space divisions (and even of gravity), describing a world of concentrated animation. A little body rides an animal over the field; a crow settles on a tower-like tree; people walk about; a little being stops to stare at the same time as the chief performer - man, horse, bird or humanoid - dominates the landscape. Star-shaped creatures weave through a field of dots and striations, the splashes and strokes of colour skipping over the surface like knots over a net.

In a few of her paintings Madhvi, in shedding the detail of surface drawing, has taken a markedly new direction, as in 'Dancing Bull and Friends', and her preoccupation with space is resultantly different. Here, the protagonist relates to the other animals and creatures in a manner that liberates the movement of the figures. In this development Madhvi can be seen to have assimilated and transformed a seemingly traditional image into a personal and modern metaphor. The tense quality that runs through her work is the result of such an attitude; a conjunction between mind and matter; the artist's own state moulding an external influence; indeed, it would seem that her direct contact with this same physical world has prompted such expression. Madhvi's work would seem to exude this passion,

Not least is the interest in the story itself - the heart of the telling. We know it to be a place inhabited by things we are familiar with, both in our conscious and unconscious stales. It is also Madhvi's view of a world where growth surges from object to object in constantly changing patterns, and underlines her desire to comprehend and identify mutual aspects of an intimate, elemental universe.

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