Caught in nostalgia: Artist Madan Meena's work inspired from the 'The Thirsty Crow'
Apart from highlighting his memories, the works in Madan Meena’s ongoing exhibition invites viewers to reflect on nature and the idea of democracy
It was during a visit to Kalibangan—a pre-Harappan settlement in Rajasthan—when Kota-based visual artist Madan Meena observed a flock of crows plummeting to the excavated ground. “That [scene] inspired me to make an artwork, which is also [based] on the story of The Thirsty Crow.” On the face of it, his work—titled ‘Thirsty Crow’, it is silk-screen printed and hand-painted in natural pigment and gold foil on paper—might conjure nostalgia and bring forth memories of that particular Aesop’s Fable.
However, Madan mentions that the piece has a political connotation. Ask him to explain and he shares, “It’s [a depiction of] the present political situation—too much ambitious, centred around one person. There is no more democracy left.” ‘Thirsty Crow’, along with a series of Madan’s works, is currently on display at India International Centre’s Annexe Gallery, Lodhi Estate, as part of the ongoing exhibition ‘Wandering Connections’—it was inaugurated by Malvika Singh, publisher and author of New Delhi: The Making of a Capital, on Friday, and will be on view till November 4.
A tryst with memories
Those familiar with Madan’s body of work will be quick to notice the symbolism inherent in the name of this exhibition. For the uninitiated, the artist is known for his extensive research of nomadic, tribal, and rural communities. Dissecting why the exhibition is called ‘Wandering Connections’, Madan shares, “The nomadic tribes of India were recognised as a wandering tribe by the British.
Then, they enacted the Criminal Tribes Act 1871 [it was repealed in 1949], to criminalise wandering tribes. I’m part of the same community—the Meena tribe was listed as a criminal tribe in the first list of 1872. Like them [the tribes], I also wander around for my research work, which is around folklore, craft, and visual traditions.”
Madan mentions that his “experiences of wandering around” have made its way in this exhibition through the visual medium. Case in point: the encounters in his journey from Kota to Barmer as seen in the Ajrakh series.
“In this journey, I have seen Kurja, the Demoiselle Cranes that are migratory birds. There’s a popular Rajasthani folk song about Kurja, ‘Paakha Pae likhu thare ormo…’. This has come into the artworks [the lyrics are written on the work ‘Mapping Memories’].” In the work ‘Ajrakh’, he has documented the various stages of the craft as well as written the names of the towns he crossed during this journey. His understanding of textiles and interest in languishing crafts is also seen in ‘Mapping Cultures’, where he pays homage to the last family of the Bhatkada, a block carving community, in Jaipur.
Beyond flora and fauna
Inspired by the Kota-Bundi miniature school, a popular miniature school in Rajasthan, Madan’s work is centred on flora, fauna, the emotions of men and women, and nostalgia. The artist shares, “This miniature school style was important to depict nature and wildlife [seen in his works ‘Ranthambore Tigers’, ‘Banana Eater’, ‘Barahmasa’, ‘Nayak’; ‘Nayika’]. I have picked those elements and contemporised it [keeping in mind] the present context.”
Apart from the 36 artworks, the artist has also displayed 10 stoles. Giving us an insight into this, “I belong to Kota, and Kethun is famous for Kota Doria. The designs are woven into Kota Doria textile by the weaver of Kethun; it is a collaboration with them.”
It is how Madan carefully balances personal and social narratives that makes ‘Wandering Connections’ an exhibition that one must not miss.