On Mamta Malhotra’s canvas, Banaras, the holy city takes on a unique character. In this interview, she talks about showcasing a delicate balance between art and architecture, on how she views the city of temples through the kaleidoscope of Makar Sankranti, and captures the soul of Kashi in dazzling detail. Titled Kashi ke Rang: Of Faith and Festivities, this solo exhibition – the Banaras-based artist has recreated the city of temples on her canvas. Excerpts of the interview:
Why have you chosen Banaras and Makar Sankranti festival as your theme?
The striking skyline of Banaras is enveloped in a dazzling kite-filled sky on Makar Sankranti. Just as a kite soars high in the sky but is always grounded, albeit with a thin string, Banaras is rooted to its traditions and faith. As the city moves toward urbanization, we ponder how best to maintain our essence while embracing the future and respecting the limits of nature. Makar Sankranti epitomizes a time of hope, colour, and a promise of good times and sunshine. Also, this harvest festival marks the completion and beginning of a new cycle. We need to remind ourselves that we need to take sensibly from this planet, it is a finite resource. My work celebrates a coming of spring, blooming of flowers, an awakening of nature and a time of richness for this city that has been through a long and hard winter of neglect and deprivation.
Titled as Shree Vishwanathnagri Strotram, there is reference to the shlokas from works composed by Adi Shankara. What does this signify on your canvas?
This painting has shloka composed by Adi Shankaracharya, which states that accumulated good karma of previous births gives you the privilege of living in Kashi and dying here assures you of moksha. A dip in the holy Ganga by all beings gives them the nature and form of Lord Shankar. I have tried to express these feelings in this work, and used line and colour to show the deep rich soul of our ancient city.
What inspired you to come up with the painting titled ‘Life On The Ghats’?
This is inspired by an excerpt written by James Prinsep in 1820 describing the city in January. Written 200 years ago, it is still current today and was probably true for the last 2000 years. This timelessness is inspiring for me. The people in these scenes are the lifeblood of the city. The Ganga is central to their daily existence, even today in all seasons, their day starts with a holy dip at dawn, whether they live in the city or are pilgrims from across the country. It is a true reflection of a human’s reverence for nature. It is a real understanding on how life depends on the delicate balance between the earth, her seasons, and all her creatures. We seem to be slowly losing this connection of simplicity, beauty and balance. Moreover, under a Makar Sankranti Sky is a series of paintings in acrylic that captures the festival of harvest, as a time of hope, color, and a promise of good times. These feelings have been conveyed by the use of fresh colour and bold strokes, in various layers reminiscent of the kite filled sky, the water of the Ganges, and sunshine.
You are an architect by profession, does this reflect in your paintings too?
I have studied architecture from the Chandigarh College of Architecture, before learning to paint and sculpt under the tutelage of Rameshwar Broota, Shobha Broota and Pradip Saxena at the Triveni Kala Sangam in New Delhi. My works, hence, have a beautiful balance of artistic aesthetics and architectural lines. I have designed residences, art galleries, art residencies, boutiques, and numerous interior and landscape design projects. Dividing time between the oldest living city and some of the youngest modern cities has shaped unique perception. Simplicity, integration with nature, relevance to our cultural identity and heritage are the trademarks of my work. I enjoy exploring the interplay of line, colour, form and texture through abstract studies and furniture design. In her dynamic mixed media pieces, I have even used wood, canvas, paint, paper, ceramics and thread to add layers and dimension resulting in highly textural works that intrigue the senses.
What is the oil painting titled Neelkanth Nagri all about?
It is with an architect’s eye that I have created a composition formed by the juxtaposition of flat roofed, open terraced buildings, seemingly randomly built, and the spires of busy temples rising above them. The chaos and disorder creates a pleasing visual harmony, situated on the banks of the revered Mother Ganges, and symbolizes the symbiotic relationship between man and nature.