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The voice of awakening

This artist duo use scraps and discards to form a narrative inspired by protofeminist poet Lal Ded’s universal vakhs (verses) that portray an era where women’s voices rose above patriarchy, writes Shilpi Madan
Last Updated : 22 October 2022, 19:30 IST
Last Updated : 22 October 2022, 19:30 IST

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Musings and milestone reflections form the pulse point in Wolf Jaipur’s latest labour of love: Song to Self, presented by Baro Market at Method Kalaghoda, Mumbai. The show, by Ritu and Surya Singh of Wolf Jaipur, brings in the verses of Lalleshwari a la Lal Ded, the 14th-century mystic poet from Kashmir. The artist duo shapes scraps and discards to form a narrative inspired by Lal Ded’s universal vakhs (songs) that form a distinct protofeminist perspective on re-awakenings and introspection.

It is a bold assertion of self, full ownership of thoughts, a voice in rebellion against the atrocities experienced at the hands of her mother-in-law’s inhuman treatment — for Lal Ded was married at the young age of 12 into an abusive household and then walked away at 26 years in search of spiritual liberation in a complete rejection of stereotypical roles.

The core inspiration

There are feelings of loss, shame, and joy that colour the couplets of the female mystic who had the guts to defy the traditional norms during a time when a woman’s complete submission to god, and not her husband, was viewed as a character stab. What aspects of Lal Ded’s poetry form the core inspiration for the collection? “The focus on the journey within iterated over 700 years, simple words which still resonate and cut across all levels of intellect — this has really inspired us. The fact that the words lived on through oral tradition impacted us greatly too,” says Surya. It is the first vakh by Lalleshwari that forms the hook. “My guru gave a single precept: shift your gaze from outside to inside, fix it on the hidden self, I, Lalla, took this to heart and naked set forth to dance. The nakedness of this truth is just so beautiful, instantly shifting your gaze from the outside to the inside! This vakh remained within us and kept coming up every now and then till we decided to immerse ourselves in Lalla’s words and world.” The highly emotional lyrics by Lalla are a rich expression of the bhakti tradition that goes beyond the realm of idol worship. The word “I” asserts the poet’s individuality as she reclaims her gender identity with eloquent ease.”

Adds Ritu, “Many of her vakhs strike a chord. Like “I entered my soul’s jasmine garden and found Shiva and Shakti, locked in love.” The beauty of this vakh had me spellbound. It transports me instantly to a space so sacred, so special, that the air permeates with the fragrance of jasmine.”

It is a hypnotic, yet harmonious run of lines and layers with twigs and twirls, the colours of nature running through the artwork. Shrivelled leaves, the fragrant pines and deodars of Kashmir, fall foliage, and coxcomb flowers come alive in the artworks. The seeds for the show were sown a few years ago but the pandemic crystallised the making. “These strange times gave everyone the opportunity to spend time with themselves and venture within. Our show last year, Lal Paar, explored this journeying within with Lalla’s words being referenced and read aloud to each other from the sidelines,” she says. “It seems Lalla had decided it was time her words took centre stage. It’s been a year of being completely immersed in her and somewhere I believe we’re telling these stories because she wants us to. I believe in magic and I believe in Lalla’s magic more than ever before. Our process begins with the materials we find and the serendipitous finding of materials for this show is definitely Lalla’s magic too.”

Transformational

There are objects they have found in Kashmir, and others that they have brought in from all over the world. Just as the rebel-saint roamed through the valleys in search of spiritual bliss, redefining selfhood in an upper caste, male-dominated society. Attune is a curious expression in vintage ledger papers, old parts of watches, rice grains, acrylic paint, resin scrap parts of radios, bits of metal chains and wooden frames, in colours of the earth. Nature is a healer and Song to Self tunes us into the wellness quotient that thrives all around us. The Cure is a dip into the alternative remedies in our own gardens, a nod to all the women healers who cured through herbs, leaves, buds and brews. Soaking up the contours of this artwork spells therapy unto itself. “Growing your own flowers, trees or food makes the seeds take root within yourself too. During the onset of Covid-19, we planted a vegetable patch on our farm which we tended to ourselves,” reveals Ritu. “In a state of suspension, it was the only growth. A transformational experience wherein working with the soil, watching the seed break out, flower, fruit and then feed us gave a sense of contentment and hope. It healed us immeasurably.”

The serpentine flow of the artwork celebrates the depth of Kundalini Shakti. “Living on a farm, we have embraced and are guided by these mysterious life forms as they remain in our subconscious and reveal themselves through the artworks,” says Ritu.

There are masculine and feminine bursts in blues and reds forming the heartbeat of the collection. Song to Self continues to tap into feminine awakening, picking up from Wolf Jaipur’s stirring rendition in Lal Paar last year, to portray an era where women’s voices are booming and the rise above patriarchy is being felt and seen. “Using the colours of the feminine: white, red and black to speak of this rising power,” says Ritu. “But this year we added blue to the palette for the need to embrace both the masculine and feminine in each of us. The need to understand that we have both and for creation, we need both.”

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Published 22 October 2022, 19:23 IST

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