(Work by Shine Shivan)
Reverence could be a way to irreverence and vice versa. Deep seated devotion and observation could lead to a sense of critical viewing of the given and also scant respect for something in the long run could change into blind devotion. But there is something in between, a transient zone where playfulness takes over and erases both reverence and irreverence. Then it becomes pure play, a sort of innocent play, a skillful re-enactment of the known and unknown alike without considering the consequences. In transience happens the flashes of innocence pregnant with the possibilities of subversion of the dominant narratives, which only trained eyes could catch.
Krishna figures multiplies in the matrix of common mythology when Shine Shivan,
the artist who masquerades himself in curious guises, breezes through the
historically and culturally marked out locations where mythology indistinguishably
manifests in the daily rituals of the common people. Nidhivan, the forest of
Tulsi in Vrindavan, famed to be the place of Krishna’s eternal erotic dances
with innumerable consorts becomes Shine Shivan’s point of departure for the
body of works comes under the common title, Nidhivan.
When the devotee becomes one with the object of devotion both of them assume the same bhava, nature, expression and trait, and this oneness is a trope that the artist has used in building up a set of narratives that is culturally shared and has become the collective unconscious of the people. Krishna and the characters around him therefore assume the stylized facial expression of the artist or the artist adopts the generic facial traits of Krishna as depicted in various traditional art forms including Nathdwara paintings and Indian miniatures. The cumulative aesthetical outcome in making these Krishna figures is an unforgettable ensemble of self portraits involved in a homo-erotic or narcissistic game.
The works in Nidhivan, for those people who hover around the surficial aesthetical appeal may not look subversive and critical of anything. However, the mild game of subversion shows up when the works are seen against heterosexual and permissible dalliance hailed in the popular mythological and devotional narratives. The emergence of this surreptitious critique is totally depended on the critical views that one can afford regarding the allowance of homo erotic interpretations within the dominant cultural fabric. In a crude political scenario where populist religious monoliths suppresses all the possible lateral readings and understanding, the artistic interventions become tricky and dangerous.
Resorting to allegorical presentations of the popular stories or retelling of the mythologies in an absolutely non-provocative manner could provide a safe interface for subversive narratives. In his works Shine Shivan makes these cute and endearing images as operative tools so that the viewers fall into the set trap of the familiar and the strange allurement of the presentation to the point of buying them even for worshipping. Its from this point of identification of the devotee with Shine Shivan’s works that the flap doors of subversion get activated, may be through an interpretative literature like this one.
Why do Krishna, his consorts, friends and other male and female characters resemble one another? Why do they keep the same facial expression? These questions should find echoes in the very act of looking and seeing. But they remain unasked because Shine Shivan through his painterly and graphic skills keeps the images closer to the traditional renditions of such figures. Their beauty and erotic drive are not compromised and there is always a constant reminder that they are true to the traditional narratives. Even the colors that the artist has deliberately chosen, reds, different shades of saffron and brown, black and blue, are all seen in the textual detailing of Krishna and his consorts in the popular literature. Even the flora and fauna are depicted the way they should be.
The authenticity of these renderings is further accentuated when one sees the statement that explains how the artist had stayed in the Nidhivan region and studied the local presentations of the Krishna Katha. This adherence to the source adds to the allurement of the trapdoor, of tradition and convention. Each story of Krishna’s games from the local lore is chosen to give his paintings the desired authenticity. The artistic cleverness, however conveys the visual intentions when he sheds the textual baggage one by one and brings the protagonists to a pair in embrace. The multiplicity of the heterosexual orgy becomes a homoerotic intimacy, love and care for each other that subverts the normative and affirms the critique in the subtextual level.
The choice of Kaliya Daman and Govardhanodharan, two popular stories related to Krishna from the Nidhivan region is important in Shine Shivan’s works. They are two strong metaphors for homo erotic arousal and its ultimate relieving after a prolonged play. Krishna lifts the lofty hill on the tip of his small finger. And Kaliya is a vicious serpent that needs enough thrashing so that it could eject Halahal, the strongest poison. In both the cases Krishna does the act of lifting and thrashing; perhaps an extremely suggestive presentation of not only homoeroticism but also autoeroticism.
There is no direct provocation but a poetic nudge so that the dreamy viewers who have fallen for the mischievousness of Krishna could be shaken out of the mythology to face something crucial to the current socio-cultural discourse regarding gender relationships in the country. Shine Shivan does not go in the line of Bhupen Khakkar or Balbir Kishan. Direct touch of Bhupen and the agonized entanglement of Balbir using male bodies as the trope is not used in Shine Shivan’s works. Like the veils over the deities before they are revealed for actual worship, tradition and convention cover Krishnas’ bodies in Shine Shivan’s works. Critical eyes are needed to pull the veil of this tradition down and see the artist’s interpretations. Allegory and retelling work quite effectively in Nidhivan. It becomes more meaningful when we come to know that Nidhivan is a place in Vrindavan where the people still believe that the erotic of plays of Krishna still take place therefore people are forbidden to go there at night!