Kota Neelima’s paintings explore the formless core of Indian spirituality.
“Idols of temples, Walls of mosques, What would they say, If stones could talk?” reads a poem under the painting titled ‘Talking Stones’. Kota Neelima’s recent exhibition ‘Remains of Ayodhya: Places of Worship’ is a refection of her artistic side while drawing from the realities she experienced as a journalist.
“I had to visit Ayodhya for work. The entire spiritual tradition of India has been about absence or the ‘Niraakar’, the formless. So I wondered what is the conflict in Ayodhya all about. There is no need to bind and limit yourself to a structure in order to worship. India is known for this sort of spirituality worldwide. But in Ayodhya I saw the opposite happening and it occurred to me that most of it has to do with the political articulation and the rhetoric you see in electoral democracies,” she explains.
While talking about Niraakar and weaving a narrative of serenity and spirituality, one can’t help but notice cases like Ayodhya, bound by form and shapes and debates over structures like a temple or a mosque. Neelima’s art work explores exactly these two sides to spirituality. Much like Ayodhya, the paintings reflect a spiritual value when viewed from a distance but a complicated picture emerges on taking a closer look. “These structures are made with stones, which are available in nature. We assign values to these structures, walls and towers. My question is —what must be these stones thinking of us?” shares Neelima.
Her paintings explore the age old connection of spirituality and nature. She explains, “There is a constant exchange between the trees and us. There is a little bit of us in the trees and a little bit of trees in us. I feel connected when I depict my art through symbols of nature, especially trees.”
The exhibition is heavily influenced by her career as a political journalist. She shares that lessons of journalism are invaluable to her. “As a journalist one learns to minimise oneself. You are always othering yourself and the original plan of journalism was to not take sides. To have a neutral, deep, passionate and yet detached view from as many vantage points as possible. A journalist was at the same time a victim, a perpetrator, the state, a politician, the society, a mother, a brother, a friend, also a stranger and at the end of the day a journalist. This is the sort of complex identity that a journalist is supposed to have and with every story a journalist does, this identity gets even more complicated. This training helped me in my art,” she shares.
“As a journalist and an artist, one has to be fearless. Art has to provide alternative ways to look at things. There has to be a rebellion in art. I cannot be worried about who is in power as an artist. Despite the political circumstance, I want to articulate about this particular issue,” she adds.
Neelima’s painting process is also complex. She starts with a lot of research and various sketches for a single artwork. “But many times the paintings turn out entirely different from what I begin with. The transfer of what I am thinking and what happens on the canvas is not controlled by me. It just manifests itself from the different vantage points I have been able to collect. For every painting here, there are at least 10 to 15 pages of research at home,” she says.
Her centerpiece titled, ‘Places of worship’ required a lot of reading too. “By way of technique and how long it takes to paint and conceptualise, it becomes clear which one will be the title painting. It challenges you. It needs a particular level of understanding before the painting thinks you are worthy of painting it,” she says.