WALKING around Shadow Garden, the installation by Manisha Parekh which is on display at Mumbai’s Jhaveri Contemporary, one can almost see what the artist herself saw one morning in 2013 as she strolled through a forest in Japan’s Honshu Island. A profusion of Fuki or Japanese Butterbur had grown across the forest floor, covering the expanse of space that Parekh stood in.
Tiny holes trailed across the leaves, indicating that worms had found sustenance in this green abundance. The Fuki shoot is itself a popular food among the Japanese who like to cook it with miso and have it as a relish with hot rice.
As Parekh looked at these leaves, which nourish both humans and worms, she found herself contemplating the nature of consumption itself. “I was there in Japan as a visitor for two-and-a-half months and like all visitors, I was consuming what I could of the language, the script, the culture. I was a little like the worm myself,” she recalls.
The sight of the Fuki leaves inspired the 52-year-old artist to head back to the Aomori Contemporary Arts Center, where she was on a residency, and try to replicate the leaves using the only material she had at hand — Japanese cypress wood. Parekh created a 100 leaves, drilled a trail of holes in them and through these, threaded red silk, the only material she had taken with her to Japan. The work that emerged became at once a remembrance of her time in Japan and a meditation on different kinds of feeding — physical and spiritual.
The Shadow Garden, which is a part of Parekh’s solo show “Line of Light”, is the final exhibit that the visitor sees after walking through the show. As it spills out from an intersection of two walls and pools across the floor, the viewer can sense why the original sight might have had the impact it did on the artist. The sunlight coming in from the window on the side dances in and out of small holes and the shadows cast by the leaves shorten and lengthen as the day progresses. Light itself, thus, becomes an essential part of the work, charging it with vitality.
In another suite of works, Gratutide, which was also created at the residency, light imbues the characteristics of liveliness and mutability. On thick sheets of Arches paper, which were washed with indigo dye and sumi ink and then hung up to dry, Parekh drilled holes tracing the outlines of certain characters from the Kanji script. Parekh says,
“Not many people around Aomori knew English and I found myself drawn to the Japanese script. For this work, I decided to use characters that represented the five elements that I was surrounded by over there — mountain, rain, tree, mist and sun.” On these characters, the Delhi-based artist made her own additions, perforating the sheets to create delicate drawings that become clear or obscured depending on the angle of the light.
Again, in “Invisible Notes”, a more recent series composed of 100 small format drawings made in 2016, the play of light becomes an important factor in viewing the works. These drawings are made from silver watercolour on 11.5X16 cm sheets of custom rag paper and represent the after-images of shapes that Parekh encountered daily and which lie at the visual periphery of her life.
“I think of the shapes as ‘associative’, rather than ‘abstract’, because each shape is anchored in specific moments and emotions,” she explains. The reflective quality of the silver paint used to draw the shapes makes them almost invisible and this, along with the associative nature of the drawings makes the viewer seem like they are privy to some part of the artist’s inner life.
The artist has always been interested in the idea of drawing shapes that don’t necessarily depict specific objects, such as in the other series on display titled “Tangled Foot”. Here, three different shapes appear in different combinations, almost as if they are in dialogue with each other. “These are versions, not repetitions,” says Parekh, “Making different versions of the same shapes becomes important because I feel like one image is not enough. It’s like in music, where one note is not enough. You need multiplicity.” “Line of Light” is on display at Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai till March 4