‘Revisiting Beauty ‘ hosted by Threshold Art Gallery, creates a visual paradigm for a reappraisal to examine the various notions of beauty within various contexts. While beauty itself may not have changed, the lens of viewing it has. It is this swapping of lens that leads to an interesting revisiting of beauty .Viewed through the lens of time and history, it examines the different meanings and perceptions that can be evoked. Threshold intends to Re-visit these notions of beauty through a series of programmes, across genres through the lenses of a variety of interpretations and practices where the notion of what is beautiful is often re-defined questioned and reinvented. We are all aware of the Indian concept of time as cyclic and in our country, the past and the present co exist. Hence there are myriad ways of looking and as many ways of calling something beautiful.
Beauty, as we recall it according to the Rasa Theory and Indian literature, is usually equated with the essence of experience. However over time many notions of beauty have slipped into our consciousness across cultures. In today’s global context, several contemporary interpretations and permutations exist, where the notion of what is beautiful is often re-defined questioned and reinvented. For instance mundane objects of utility can be viewed as beautiful and rare collectibles in today’s context. We see this quite clearly in the distinctive approaches between the folk, modern and contemporary art. The influence of aestheticians from the occident have often have led us to ponder, why is it that a particular work of art is judged more acceptable and palatable than another, when both works arguably toe the line of ‘prescribed’ notions of beauty? What then leads to consensus on whether an art work is too beautiful/pretty to retain its subversive quality, than say one which is less so. Is it easier to accept an art work that is not ‘conventionally beautiful’ than the one which prescribes to convention? Can a work of art be deemed cutting-edge while retaining its aesthetic quality and beauty or does it necessarily need to induce the aesthetics of revulsion and grotesqueness that is characteristic of the Bibhatsa Rasa in order for it to be valued?
These are some of the questions aestheticians have wrestled with over the years. India the land of diversity, has often been viewed as a confluence of aesthetic experiences, from the saccharine depictions of notions of beauty by Victorian masters like Thomas Gainsborough to of Venetian Masters like Botticelli, Titian and Rueben. These influences are best manifested in our very own Raja Ravi Verma whose cannon of beauty defined itself by a fusion of the Venetian Masters and portrait studies of the local sultry Dravidian beauties. Modern masters like Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin were influence the works of artists like Amrita Sher-Gil while Pablo Picasso influenced an entire generation of the Progressive Artists.
Yet our indigenous history cannot help but impinge and reiterate itself on our notions of beauty, which leads us to the question, do we enshrine the Dadaist urinal of Marcel Duchamp or the stunningly crafted Feudal hookahs, as definitive icons of Indian aesthetics? Why can it not be a happy amalgam of both influences?
This is the question that is posed by the series Revisiting Beauty and it carries through a variety of medium and expressions, beginning with the lusciously beautiful black-and-white photographs of artist, photographer and master of royal couture, JJ Valaya.
Talented couturier JJ Valaya, has distinguished himself as a photographer with an eye for bringing the past and the present in conversation with each other in his lusciously producedphotography book, Decoded Paradox. In this series of images Valaya creates tableaux that bring the opulence and decadence of Royal India in conversation with the quotidian. Royalty is a motif that Valaya often interjects into his own designs and indeed, the clothes and jewellery worn in the photographs were from the House of Valaya archives as well as from select private collections.
The images serve to collapse history, speaking of a bygone era, where time was elastic and the appreciation of the beautiful and grandiose was not even a consideration, but a given. While the undertones of the feudal are subtly present, they are simultaneously subverted by the presence of the everyday. In an unlikely coupling, a Maharaja sits beside roadside mechanic shop where a mountain of used and second-hand vehicle-tyres, are his palace, as bemused court dancers look on at the sanguine cow. In another a turbaned price sits before a group of muscled akhada wrestlers. While the images are reminiscent of the time of royal portraiture by 18th century photographer Raja Deen Dayal, they are in fact very contemporary. In each frame they pay tribute to India’s historic past and its vibrant present, celebrating both the country’s opulent royalty and its contemporary subaltern, visually punning against the two extremities of the social spectrum.
“My camera(s) and I are in a torrid affair and we are discovering new facets of each other every single day. I am not technically trained in the finer nuances of camera-speak e.g. Aperture, Exposure, ISO etc etc…but I know what my eye sees and the image that I can finally make. In the end, to me, my photography is more about a narrative and composition than about technique.”
Delhi-based noted fashion designer and couturier JJ Valaya has distinguished himself as a fine art photographer, synergizing the past and the present in his lusciously produced photography book, Decoded Paradox (2011). His 27-year experience across the fields of fashion, textile, craft, embroideries and furniture design has inspired his photographs, the interdisciplinarity of his experience enriching the visual imagery of his photographs, imbuing their subjects with an aura of fluidity between their antiquity and contemporaneity.
His photographs, which mostly revolve around portraiture and architecture, present silent stories bridging together how Valaya sees his subjects, his impression of how the world sees them and, finally, as who they really are. Creating layers and dimensions in his works, which range from black and white and eventually graduate to colour, the exhibition, then, will provide a glimpse of Valaya’s curious perception, his artistic approach and his visually opulent storytelling.