Under the direction of Himanshu Verma, Red Earth—the New Delhi-based art collective—has explored common cultural moments through contemporary artistic expression. The monsoon saw a green-clad audience looking at photographs. Santa Claus was reinterpreted by Verma as a sexy, skinny party animal last Christmas. And this week, Diwali will get its time in the Red Earth spotlight.
Light up: Work at Red Earth’s Festival of Lights - photograph of David de Souza’s lights garment
“We want to celebrate the seasons as traditional Indian art has always,” Verma says. “The contemporary art scene has totally forgotten those beautiful linkages.”
As in many Red Earth shows, artists will be encouraged to reinterpret old traditions in contemporary mediums. This show will be the first to use light as a medium of art. Artists such as Jenson Anto, David de Souza and Gagan Singh will have the option of incorporating modern light sources such as neon lights or fluorescent lights or using traditional Diwali light sources such as diyas and fire.
Verma says the only prerequisite for the show is that artists must use physical light in their work. He is interested to see an exploration of the use of lights that are more Western, or city lights such as the neons, compared with more traditional Indian lights such as diyas.
Gagan Singh, for example, says he will likely be drawing his usual pen and ink artwork directly onto tube lights. The white spaces of his normally black and white pieces can be the red or green of the coloured lights. His minimalistic drawings will be enhanced by the contemporary lighting that he will use as a backdrop.
The 32-year-old New Delhi-based artist says the influence of light will enhance his work, giving it a more subtle meaning. His work draws on mysticism and spirituality, not so much the story of Diwali. “The influence of the story does not come in, but the idea of the diya as spiritual energy does,” Singh says. “Take that element of light to work with.”
Other artists will create paintings with specially placed lights to highlight their work, and some fashion designers will integrate lighting into clothes.
Along with the light-based work, Red Earth will also be showcasing work from young New Delhi-based artist Arjuna. Rather than focusing on light as the inspiration, Arjuna decided to reinterpret the traditional image of Lakshmi.
He has taken a series of photographs of danseuse Geeta Chandran posing as Lakshmi and created wildly coloured serigraphs. The whole idea was to “funk Lakshmi up”, Verma says.
The bright, bold pieces see Lakshmi as a smiling, youthful dancer playing her sitar in a cheerful world of splashes of paint, geometric divisions of colour and abstract shapes.
Verma says special emphasis will be placed on Arjuna’s work, as the “whole idea is to get these Lakshmis into people’s homes to give them a new Lakshmi to enjoy.”
The gallery space at Alliance Francaise will be dimmed so that the light element will be vivid even during the day.
However, the best viewing will be in the evening, as some of the installations will be in the garden.
Also, on the opening night of the show, there will likely be card games set up in the tradition of Diwali gaming. And Verma says he is trying to arrange for Chakula dancers to perform.
The dress code for the event will be gold or “shiny” clothes, to involve the audience in the event. Verma says he wants everyone to be involved in a really “loud” way.
Festival of Lights will be on at the Alliance Francaise de Delhi, from 6-10 November.