Essay by Dr. Seema Bawa

Is Ghat Antar Baagh Bagiche
Isi Main Sirjanhaara

Within this realm are gardens and orchards (the Created World) And within this is the One who created them.

– Kabir

As an artist and a writer Kota Neelima questions all presumptions and assumptions in inherited ideas including metaphysics. The basic relationship between be-ing and imaginative consciousness, the relationship between the creations and creator is the inspiration behind the series: an attempt to reveal or peal the inexpressible un-manifest opaque, as she sees it, as the Manifest aesthetic creation. The microcosmic artist thus repeats each time the macrocosmic Creator.

She avers that Indian civilization is based on questioning. But since the demands of development turned our minds to scientific and technological issues, we have lost this ability and indeed the courage to ask fundamental questions, metaphysical, religious, soteriological questions, and limit ourselves to social concerns.

Science and the theoretical practical paradigm of enlightenment & modernity has already limited the space in which real enquiry can take place, as has westernization of the Indian way of thinking. Her paintings are an expression of these concerns. Her questions are thus not mere theoretical yearning but deeply felt intuitive and aesthetic concerns. Her show is thus aptly titled First Cause.

Through her paintings, Neelima addresses fundamental issues such as if karma is the original cause, then how can it be free from the consequences and effects of Karma? All that existsas names (human attribution of meaning)and forms must have a beginning, an origin. All that man perceives and experiences is an effect with a cause preceding it. Thus all human endeavorsare tainted with Karma. One cannot take oneself as a presence as aCausaSaiand thus finds one disinherited from oneself. A sense of being disowned, an absence, a lack constitute what ‘I’ call myself. “If I seek to know the cause in me I may intuitively know the First Cause”.

Her painterly consciousness then asks whether Creation changed the nature of the Creator Him/Herself. For any action, the act of doing changes the doer also. How is the creator immune?

What is the consequence of the act of Creation on the Creator? If god is nirupadhi, that is emotionless ,does he partake of the imperfections of creation, the pain the suffering and inequities? .The Creator is Prathamand Prathamis his creation. From Pradhana (Uncreate), God be it Shiva or Brahma depending on the sectarian leanings of the believer, caused the Cosmos to be created. Through the interaction of the non-characterized Pradhana that is devoid of smell, colour, taste, sound, touch and attributes with the characterized Prakritithat is endowed with all these senses. This is the source of the universe; it is elemental both in subtle and gross forms. It is the physical body of the worlds; it originated from the non-characterized of its own accord. Neelima’s painterly world explores the beginnings of the senses, of the attributes and the resonances and dialogues that start with these beginnings.

Any intense experience, anubhava, opens up a part of life, especially death and tragedy. Does the creator participate in this anubahva? Is the Nirupadhi Brahma then tainted by these imperfections of world and history? Vedantins and the Gaudapada see the Creator as what may be called consciousness.

For mortals this is a grim tainted existence but to the creator losing himself in ignorance is his glory his Lila. His Lila, his play is to be the perpetual sacrifice. For the creator all is self:S/he dies with the killed and kills with the killer, every pain is an ecstasy all sins a holy act. The Creator always “is”while mortals have to become. Mortals too need to partake with what “is” and then alone does mayacome to an end. Kota Neelima’s works play out this lila of creation where ancient secrets and seedings reveal themselves through colour and form.

The last question that she raises is What then is desire? Indian religio-philosophical tradition suggests that extinction of desire leads one to partake the divine, leading to the achieving divinity. However in history, desire or erosleads to progress, to amelioration. This contradiction and dialectic operates in the work of Kota Neelima.

Such contradictions of Creation are therefore part of the Creator’s Lila; the concept of Sahkarma states that you cannot have an effect of cause which is not related to the nature of the cause itself.Thus if the First Cause is vulnerable, the entire edifice of infallibility and godhead becomes vulnerable to emotions and desires. This is demonstrated in the painting First Cause which is a subtle work, dominated by gray with upwardly turning white feathers signifying the first karma floating on the sea of Uncreate. The contrast between the created world with its concentric strokes and the relatively undisturbed sea before time and space is marked by horizontal strokes. The first creation has to be imperfect as it rises from the perfect.

The other paradigmatic work is the First Cut. If the world is defined by mortality with blood, flesh the nashvara elements and the created world is part of the Creator himself, by the act of creation, god himself endured the first cut. On pristine shades of white, a slash of blood, brown red as it dries, exemplifies this. It is the white, of Creative flux, that bleeds but not with blood. From the absolute emerges the world of pain, nature and anguish. There are no shadows, only a shine of zinc white juxtaposed with titanium white. It is the First Drop of blood that is circular dot which explains the concept of pralaya and kalpa, the cycle of destruction and creation, of eternal continuity, where there is no eternal tragedy, as old forms dissolve (prakritapralaya) into new emergent forms.

Kota Neelima, then imagines the moments that came after the creative act, as the cosmos emerged from the Uncreate. The First Light as it tentatively came into being in form of energy drenched photons. But in the kalpas and cylicalyugas, the realms have to end so there has to be the Last Light, or the fading into the night. Through light one can perceive distance, have perspective; the light and the distance to the horizon is in relation to where a person is. With light come the first colours, the pure white, a little imperfect but in conflict with its dual self, with black that has some white, some goodness mixed with it. Alterity defines the created world.

Then comes the First Secret shared between the trees and the clouds, between the material and the metaphysical, between the inclusive and the exclusive. The composition shows a dialogue with the forest, the trees, which have secrets that are shared only with those who have renounced the world of creation, the vanaprasthaand the sanyasis. The sages of the aryanka, who can excavate the memory and the knowledge embodied in the forest.The entire process of Creation is encompassed by the First Day, the first day of Brahma that equals a kalpa of the gods, hundreds of yugas of humanity- a day symbolized by a tree with upward reaching branches and downward descending roots but without an end on either side, rather like the Jyotiralinga that embodies perfect knowledge, light, support and shelter.

Neelima’s works play with form and formlessness, using these to express the material elements and those that predate time, space and matter. Abstraction in her work is referential and resonates with intuitive feel of presence and not mere form as it seeks to partake of this presence in phenomenon. To a modernist everything must have a cause & effect. Brahman as presence cannot fit into this chain. The presence is a truth itself as it does not need the percipient or the viewer. This translates into Kota’s work which while celebrating presence eschews the tyranny of mere forms; and is predicated on the Indian philosophical / aesthetic tradition.

The artist works directly on the canvas, without a pencil or charcoal line, unwilling as she is to mar the canvas with anything except the painterly process, or have lines chaining the painting. Then the paint, the form, and the thought become the agency and the artist herself is only the medium through which the process takes place. The basic structure of the painting is often evolved through sketches, but it is the oil colours and the canvas that are the real vocabulary through which the artist builds a dialogue between the past and the present in her paintings.

The artist palette is subtle with white dominating. However, it is a very pregnant white, with tonalities and shades and most importantly mass. Neelima creates sculpted forms through thick application of paint that give her canvases a body and a three dimensional feel. In this particular series one is also struck by the use of green, the verdant colour of created world, which is fecund and fertile, filled with potential, cumulative knowledge and the promise of regenerative beginnings.

  • Modernity is predicated on uncovering the cause of everything and without satisfying this need one does not consider herself a “knower” of anything; thus a darkness of unknowing broods on all created phenomenon. This primordial yearning cannot be satisfied.
  • The human mind needs the security of assumptions, the certitude of inherited shared concepts and meanings to make sense of the world and for happiness and serenity and endow the same to the Creator. The mind seeks causes of things because things always allude to something other than itself. Within the world, effects can be traced to causes material or instrumental and in this chain people seek teleology or eschatology and attribute God with the assumptions that underlie this telos.
  • Linga Purana, AITM, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, reprint 2007, pp.xx.
  • Modernity asserts that the senses perceive and the mind imagines and conceives. However to the Vedantin neither perception nor thinking is possible without non-temporal consciousness. IF the creator is consciousness and creation is as some say, done by the creator to know himself; was the creator ignorant “in the beginning”. It is true that self knowledge comes through the harshness of the world or Anubhava. To the Vedantin the Creator willingly becomes ignorant in order to be to be enlightened ignorance is the arche and anubhava the telos as he moves from fault to fault death to death to finally die into self-knowledge
  • The presence as intuited is based on the traditions of Vedanta philosophy. Our theoretical-practical character towards anything never allows it to become a presence. Only if this disposition is shed can we feel the presence of an object. When an object becomes a presence only then it turns into a Brahman.

Dr. Seema Bawa, an Associate Professor at Sri Aurobindo College, University of Delhi, has written extensively on contemporary Indian art and artists. She has authored the book Religion and Art of the Chamba Valley. Her next book, Gods, Men and Women: Gender and Sexuality in Early Indian Art, is under publication. Ms Bawa studied at the Institute of Oriental Art History, University of Bonn, on the Indo-German Cultural Exchange Fellowship. She contributes a weekly column on art to the Asian Age and Deccan Herald, and was the editor of ARTimes.