by Georgina Maddox
Megha Joshi’s solo show Rites of Passage brings us to the edge of faith and image-making, leaving us in deep conversation with the self
When one walks through the arches made of gossamer and clay, one passes through time, through faith, and through to the agnostic. The large ‘relief-sculptural’ works that hang from the ceiling envelope the viewer into the concepts of architecture and time, bringing them to a point where you can touch one’s inner questions and calm one’s inner doubts. As one enters the room festooned with joss-sticks and incense, one imagines the smell of the fragrant sticks, only to be told by the artist that the sticks are in fact non-fragrant and covered in liquid adhesive. This is perhaps the essence of Megha Joshi’s recent body of work, titled Rite of Passage — where the factual mind and the imagination meet to hold a meaningful conversation.
Gallery Studio Art, in Okhla, New Delhi, offers viewers an entry point into Megha Joshi’s works that are introspective and inward-looking in meaning. They are interrogative with form and material, where the artist explores a state of no-mind, no-opinion. The works mark an atheist’s rituals to look inwards. Drawings and installations using conventional materials draw the viewer into a quiet, contemplative world. I caught up with her and exchanged views:
GM: As you have approached the spiritual aspect, moving in from speaking out, tell us what brought on this change and how this has affected this body of work.
MJ: Nothing can be bereft of the spiritual aspect in creating, but in the post-pandemic time the failure of established patterns of thinking, efforts, relationships, institutions, etc. all came to the fore for many as they did for me.
I wanted to use art as a means to look inward, silence the mind and start afresh. I have been called "bold", "critical", "challenging", "feminist", "activist" as an artist, so these works may come as a jolt. This body of work was like doing a maun-vrat or vow of silence, trying not to say anything.
Causal Synchronicity, Hand-knotted threads and woven carpet on canvas, 72 inches x 48 inches, 2022
GM: 'These works mark an atheist’s rituals to look inwards' – a very interesting statement; please tell us more about this process of addressing one's atheism but yet looking inward.
MJ: I see the need for faith, I see the importance of ritual but I find religion redundant and perverted, mostly. To remain humble and functional one needs to believe in something beyond one's self but it is not there in religion for me.
Atheism and looking inward are not contradictory. You can look inwards without looking upwards. Self-awareness and introspection need time and a withdrawal from the intense feelings that the human condition evokes. I have been very critical of religion but I tried to use the essence of ritualism and the philosophical aspect of religions in these works.
GM: Tell us about the Rite of Passage in the sense of what has been the transition and the rite . . . spelling it out for viewers.
MJ: I remain a constant believer in the transformative power of art but never thought of it as a self-transformation tool. The rite has been a focused, daily practice using ritualistic, repetitive action – much like a rosary or a jhaap mala using common ritual materials of Hinduism. The transition has been that it actually quietens the mind and sharpens the brain - preparing for the next stage of my art practice. It is a process, one that took place over the last one-and-a-half years in my studio – the manifestation of which is on view.
I hope the viewer can take away a bit of the contemplative aspect of it all.
GM: With works like ‘Nonsense sticks’ I feel that your sense of humour has not diminished even though you are dealing with the idea of the sacred and prayer. Please comment.
MJ: Humour is also a great tool to seek truths. What is an incense stick without fragrance? What is a material without its prescribed/ascribed meaning? Sacredness and prayers are acts, not things. So-called sacred spaces/people/things are often scary, restrictive and boring. Prayer is often not genuine. The installation with nonsense sticks is an act of seeking what is divine between the order and the chaos in the world.
Untitled, Ink and Acrylic on handmade paper, 8 inches x 11 Inches each (Set of 6 drawings), 2022
108, Watercolour and acrylic on acid free paper, 5 x 7 Inches each (Set of 108 drawings), 2021-22
GM: Reading into the iconography of the work, one could say that both the faiths the Hindu and the Muslim come together in your work – for where we have the Rudraaksh we also have the reference to Islamic architecture. Tell us more about the syncretic nature of your work.
MJ: Yes, that is by design. The symbolism of both faiths is there – just to use identifiable elements. All cultures and societies are syncretic really, an amalgamation of influences and events. In India, one needs to constantly reinforce the syncretic aspects because of divisive politics. My choice to take Islamic elements was to take an aspect of faith – the decorative motifs. The architectural element comes from my own memory – of playing almost daily in Humayun's tomb as a child, as I lived across it. I know only syncretism.
It is this idea of the syncretic that Joshi leaves us with and we are left to contemplate the various shades and symbolisms of faith and belief. The impact of the pandemic has no doubt led many of us to a spiritual plane and it is upon this plane that Joshi leaves us to contemplate surrounded by her artwork that is both provocative and yet calming.
The show is on view till 12 February 2023 at Studio Art, Okhla
The images of the artworks are courtesy of the artist Megha Joshi and Gallery Studio Art )
Georgina Maddox is an independent critic-curator with almost two decades of experience in the field of Indian art and culture. She was assistant editor at India Today’s Mail Today and senior arts writer for the Indian Express and the Times of India. She is currently working in the media as an independent critic for various publications and has published articles in Open Magazine, India Today, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and also in Elle Magazine, The Hindu and Business Line, Sunday Magazine BLINK, TAKE on Art, Time Out, and online with US based E-magazine, Studio International, STIR world and MASH Mag.