The East has always been a land of endless mysteries for the rest of the world. Despite its accessible literature and cinema which does elicit some of its external features, yet somehow the inward spirit of the oriental culture remains somewhat distant and remote to the world. There can be no doubt, however, that the Chinese art continues to intrigue and attract many artists from around the world.
Indian artist Sunanda Khajuria, who was born in Panthal, Jammu, travelled to China in 2011 to study art. After learning the language, she began her studies in Chinese paintings at the China Academy of Arts, Hangzhou. According to the artist, whose current solo exhibition entitled Moving Landscapes is on at the Art Heritage Gallery in Delhi, Chinese paintings are mostly representations of natural phenomena. They are known most of all for their vivid landscapes.
Khajuria’s recent works are inspired by Chinese traditional painting techniques. Executed with unmatched finesse, the works have a poetic feel about them. These are inspired by Chinese mountain paintings, the works are done with acrylic colour on canvas, Chinese ink on interactive installations, and natural pigment delicately painted with brush on silk.
The exhibition explores the moving journey of the artist’s life where time and place are recurring themes. The objects and figures in Sunanda’s paintings seem to float freely in circles on her canvas. They evoke a sort of spiritual rhythm by reflecting the harmony of the universe. Some of her works also exude a sense of nostalgia for home. “In traditional Chinese mountain paintings,” she says, “travelling is considered very important part of the experience. Artists paint landscapes with their own distinctive interpretation after travelling to scenic places far away.” She has climbed mountains in order to derive inspiration for her paintings.
Sunanda’s world of art is deeply connected with the natural world and its mysterious secrets. “Time is the major factor behind the magic and mystery of existence for me. It is inseparable from life and death,” says the 37-year-old Hangzhou-based artist. Chinese art conceives nature as an immanent force, and the objective of the artists —according to Sunanda — is to put themselves in communion with this force, and to successfully convey its quality to the viewer. Many of her works show a close relationship with nature. She says, “Nature is regarded as an avenue to knowledge and the repository of wisdom that exerts a great deal of mental and spiritual power.” And she adds that it’s important to learn from nature while one follows one’s mind.
The Chinese also judge an artist and the quality of a piece of artwork by the refinement of line and its infinite expressiveness. Lines are a pivotal element in Chinese visual arts, be it a sculpture or a painting. English poet and painter William Blake, too, expressed a similar view when he wrote: “The great and golden rule of art, as well as of life, is this: That the more distinct, sharp and wiry the bounding line, the more perfect the work of art, and the less keen and sharp, the greater is the evidence of weak imagination...”
Sunanda draws her imagery from the terrains, houses, birds, traditional Chinese designs and zodiac system; clouds and landscapes. The colour green has been employed extensively in her paintings. In one of her paintings, If I had Wings, there is a debate between a swan and a masked figure who is seated on an airplane. Another bird witnesses the scene holding on to its perch from a corner. The painting deals with desires — a desire to travel and a desire to fly freely like a bird.
Tales of the White Snake is Sunanda’s exquisite delineation of local legends and symbolism. It is about one of the most famous tales of ancient China about a white snake, which came to West Lake in Hangzhou. The tale goes that this female was longing for a life and home. It’s believed that she married a scholar named Xu Xian. In the painting, the artist has employed symbols like the rooster from the Chinese zodiac system — Sheng Xiao, and also present are houses, birds, trees, flowers and a steep mountain.
Sunanda creates a narrative through her protagonist using allegory. In many of her works central figure is a female who finds herself amid nature, shifting landscapes and multitude symbols and objects. Her recent works are a result of her own experiences and desires; majorly of her intrinsic passion for travel.