Raj Shahani’s maiden solo exhibition of sculptures explores the physicality of the human body in lyrical motion, encapsulated in a three dimensional frame. The series is conceptualized as a celebration of the human body and spirit and its fluid eloquence during movement. They capture the poetics of movement, stillness, resilience, beauty, emotion and grace of the human form. The New York based artist has translated the dynamism and vitality of the human body in time and space in his sculptures, and articulated classical dance lines, forms and postures in his works, all of which bring alive stories of life and living.
The figurative rendering adopts an intuitive approach to express the corporeality and sensual grace of the dancers and their movements. Shahani’s background in photography and product design forms an effective base to experiment with the plasticity of the material and sculpting as a medium. His familiarity with working with visuals and images is evident in the animated body language and expressiveness of the sculptures, marked significantly by a palpable silence and a hiatus in the narrative. Caesura/continuum reflects this interlude, symbolic of the dynamism, sinuosity and rhythm of the infinite cycle of life and universe.
Inspired by Auguste Rodin, the vivacity and the latent emotion inherent in his sculptures, Shahani began sculpting. A keen interest in the performing arts extends to his sculpting practice and the entire series has evolved from it. The naturalistic representation in bronze and fiberglass, combined with its burnished patinas in multiple hues and tonal gradients, capture the intensity of expression and emotion of the performing artistes. The purity of the body as a divine form and its existence as a shrine lies at the core of Shahani’s philosophical ideology. His inspirations and influences emerge from the art and cultural landscape in Europe and United States, intertwined with and an amalgamation of aesthetic sensibilities that straddles continents. His art practice locates itself in the Western cultural context and the mysticism of the Eastern tradition. This body of work is inspired by dance, particularly ballet, where Shahani has worked with countless photographs he has shot and with live models to depict the transcendence of fleeting moments. The fluidity of line in movement, its eloquence and its emotional expressiveness accentuates each work.
Shahani moulds the clay to shape the dancers and performers in a naturalistic style, pronouncedly realistic, capturing the essence of a given instant, referring to photographs, but often instinctively shaping the clay from memory. The subconscious sculpting layers nuances and deepens the emotional content. The artist acts as a witness and a medium/communicator to recreate stills of the performance and the emotion they evoke subliminally, an innate rendering of the moments. For Shahani, the experience of witnessing and sculpting, integrate into a seamless existence, where reality, memory and materiality of the medium coalesce. The chiastic stance in many of the sculptures and the freestanding figures defy gravity, poised as graceful edifices of strength, resilience and harmony.
Beautiful balance, weightless elevations, effortless suspensions in a ballon, display of elegance and poise underline the performative elements in a ballet dance and these characteristics are poignantly portrayed in Shahani’s works. The sculptures display the quietude and the beauty of each moment as the dancers swirl and rise with the music, pushing boundaries of physical and mental strength and poised to reveal their innermost emotions. Beyond the surface aesthetics and the theatrical demeanor of each sculpted figure, the narrative attempts to emphasize the identity and persona of the individual performer. The humanistic approach predominates to highlight the emotional narrative and record these moments for posterity.
Nalini S Malaviya