Pour some love on Ashiesh Shah’s Lingam Bench
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The phallic form of the Shiva lingam has always had a strong appeal among artists and designers. For instance, the late Italian modernist, Ettore Sottsass—whose retrospectives are being held at the Met Breuer, New York, and the Venice Art Biennale—explored the form in his own whimsical rendition in the 1990s, creating Lingam vases and the Ceramiche di Shiva.
Mumbai-based interior designer and architect Ashiesh Shah is no exception. “The Shiva lingam is a form that recurs in my work, one way or another; in rounded arches, in combining domes and cylinders, there’s always an undercurrent. It is one form that hasn’t been owned by the West. It’s completely ours and has such a strong spiritual connect,” says Shah, who decided to devote a project to the exploration of the form.
Made in black and white marble, the Lingam Bench, a limited edition of 24—12 in white and 12 in black—combines sliced forms of the lingam. With the edges gently rounded, it is a sleek, seductive piece. It’s sturdy, however, and Shah demonstrates this by stepping on to one extreme edge—it holds steady. “There is an artistic bent to this but design has to be functional,” says Shah.
The first prototype was made in wood and Shah sent it over to artist Subodh Gupta “for his initial thoughts”. Shah narrates Gupta’s reaction with much amusement. “Subodh loved it, but asked what kind of Shiva lingam is in wood?”
Marble brought with it its own set of challenges. “Marble is heavy, it chips, the joinery is difficult. We didn’t want to use any metal clasps to join the pieces because we wanted to retain the purity of the material.” The breakthrough came from the tacit and experiential knowledge of a craftsman. “I work with an artisan in Rajasthan, and he suggested an age-old technique of limestone joinery. “We chiselled the whole piece, screwed it manually, and then grouted it with limestone. The marble dust is mixed with silicon and it acts like a glue,” says Shah.
Aparajita Jain, director of the Nature Morte gallery in New Delhi, first showed the Lingam Bench at the India Art Fair in January. “By the end of the show, Aparajita called me and said pairs of benches had been sold, and patrons included the likes of Roshni Vadehra, Sangita Jindal, Subodh Gupta and Bharti Kher. I felt really encouraged,” says Shah, who has decided to give away the proceeds from these sales to a cancer-related charity.“The Lingam Bench is a passion project. However much money it makes, I want to pledge it away for a cause that is close to my heart,” says Shah.