The Decorated Cow

For this show Sidharth has executed paintings, drawings and sculptures based on the continuum of the traditional and contemporary relationship of the human with the cow. The cow here represents a cosmic vision of the created world. A world that has been so dominated by humans that the cow is now one of the rare species that does not exist in the wild.

What is a cow? Is it just a visually perceived object? Is it merely a domesticated animal? Or does it lend itself to layers of meaning, representing twenty thousand years of human history and its relationship with the cow and the animate world. Or it is the cosmic/celestial cow perceived by the Vedic man as an all giver and consummate wish fulfiller. “Aditi, the cow, gives food to the righteous man, O Mitra and Varuna, who makes offering to the gods.” Rg Veda I, 153, 3.

The Rig Vedic worldview revolves around the primeval man and his bucolic relationship with the cow who is at once a deity, a fellow inhabitant of the habitat –aryanaka-grama, part of the socio-political network, a being that defined man’s lineage (gotra) and relationship with his ancestors (pitras) and progeny. Or is it when stripped of all these traditional meanings, a being which inspired the Vedic man with holy awe, a holy sublime being, each part of whom contained a part of the cosmos and gods and goddesses associated with it, a being that was mythologized into the perfect one.

As against this today, the cow is holy only merely in ritual. It has been relegated to the margins of our urban and mental landscapes. It is treated as automata that has become only an object of consumption – ritual, social, political, cultural and dietary. Even the pedagogic in India seems to have been designed around the cow. Ever since we were children we have been chanting/parodying versions of Gai hamari Mata hai; even though in some niche of our consciousness we seem to have internalized its holiness. Sidharth excavates all these meanings and more.

For all the signifiers to be revealed to the viewer, the artistic and curatorial projects must share a harmonized vision. One has endeavoured to create a synergy, certain empathy, a syncretic worldview that gets reflected in the catalogue as well as the display. The voices separate in academic and merge in lyrical concepts seeking to interpret a deeply felt vision. The curatorial process is not limited to the artist and his art alone. It must take into account the sensitive viewer’s reception to the works.

The process has involved seeking comments of many writers on the cow in Sidharth’s art. Thus there are multiple voices dialoguing with the image created by one artist from their vantage points, be these anthropological, ecological or cultural. The image is amplified with interventions that are rich in regional histories, myths, stories, viewpoints; interventions that interpret Sidharth’s art from very individual standpoints.
The show itself has been subdivided into six sections, each woven around an ideogram, though there is an overall thematic unity running through them. Each section is defined by a sattva, or essence echoed in mood/emotion in terms of rasa-bhava with a presiding colour that is further reflected in colours used in the catalogue and exhibitions. The emotive content of the show has been augmented with film and music composed by the artist and his colleagues.

Sidharth the artist, and Sidharth the mediator, become one in the current series. The discourse thus created works metaphorically and visually at many levels in a dialogic revolving around the cow. In this, the dialogue with materiality that is understood as ecology is the most enduring and which becomes the meta-text in the paintings; materiality of the pastoral, bucolic past and of the consumerist, post modern present, and the uncertain future. A new set of meanings and iconographies emerge from these interactions,that are steeped in Sidharth’s vocabulary of motifs, symbols, scripts and images. The dialogue with tradition, be it in form of myth or of the inherent saundarya attempted, provide the organic substratum. This is a continuous, evolutionary discourse that ends with his dialogue with ananda or transcendent joy with its universal, emotive connect. His is not a pessimistic or didactic vision. Through the cow in this selection he communicates with the human, not as a preacher but as a participant suggesting that man’s civilization can be redeemed only when he lives in harmony with the cow, from the sky to the earth, from the bird to the beast
The dark dancing Shiva-Nandi, the flute playing dancing Krishna, the joyfully dancing Yama-Nachiketa, dharma- adharma merge in Sidharth’s cosmic vision of the cow. But the existential, present, microcosmic reality is as graphic as the eternal, with cows wandering on garbage heaps in the urban maze through the road network imitating the ritual mandala made of cow dung; celebrating death and regeneration, the rural and the urban.

Ms. Seema Bawa

write-ups by:

The Decorated Cow
(a talk between Ms. Seema Bawa and Sidharth)