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Of Myths & Legends

Rithika Merchant’s latest exhibition looks at myths from around the world and discovers a deeper connection.

Written by AMRUTA LAKHE |
October 3, 2013 4:35:22 am

Once,when artist Rithika Merchant was reading about the Aztec culture,she came across a story that spoke of the Deadly Mother — a goddess who is a destroyer of evil. She immediately drew references to Kaali,the Hindu goddess and annihilator of evil forces. The similarity in the conception and visual representation of the two myths surprised her. The more she read the more she discovered myths that seemed to recur across cultures.

After poring over books about myths,legends and folklore of Roman,Hindu,Norse,Greek and African origins,she gathered a lot of material on the subject. Two years ago,Merchant — who had her first solo showing in Mumbai in 2011 — started to channel this information into her exhibition “Mythography”. Merchant’s drawings and sketches,therefore,explore the common thread in myths and legends across different cultures. The works will be on display at Gallery Art and Soul,Worli,starting October 4.

Within this theme,the artist’s works are divided into two series. In the first,titled after the exhibition,Merchant has strung together myths from all over the world. “Some myths are universal. For instance,the flood myth talks of a great flood sent by the gods to destroy an entire civilization. It can be seen in the story of Noah’s Ark or Vishnu’s Matsya avatar,” she says of her painting Matsya. Earth Diver talks about the creation of beings according to the Norse culture. “When the earth was formed,there was a water void into which a primordial creature dived,scooped up a handful of sand,through which the earth and its beings sprang up,” she says. With every painting,Merchant has a story to tell. Creation From Nothing/Within represents an African legend where a white giant created the nine creatures,one from each family of animals through which all others were born. Titanography shows the clash of the Titans and Olympians that she relates to the war between the Devas and the Asuras — essentially,between a wise and a chaotic force.

The second series of her exhibition,My Monomyth,came together after Merchant read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The book is based on the monomyth theory,which states that myths form around the world follow a fundamental structure. “The book postulates that a hero who sets out on a journey encounters 17 phases right from the initiation of the adventure,the obstacles he encounters along the way,to the self discovery and his eventual return,” says Merchant. She cites the popular example of filmmaker George Lucas who was inspired by the book and wrote Luke Skywalker’s — of the Star Wars series — adventures using Campbell’s theory.

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My Monomyth is Merchant’s semi-autobiographical version of the same theory,with a slight twist. “All the protagonists in Campbell’s stories are male. So I decided that the central character of my series would be a woman,” says Merchant. In Call To Adventure,the woman is seen being pulled by unknown forces,which marks the beginning of the journey. Crossing The First Threshold shows the hero successfully passing the first test of the undertaking. Merchant,who has captured each of these 17 stages in her works,has drawn from her own life for some. For instance,Meeting With The Goddess is inspired by her relationship with her mother.

Merchant believes that all myths are connected because the human race as a whole experiences similar situations. “Even though people live thousands of miles away from each other,their reactions to emotions,such as fear,hope,and happiness,are the same. It is a fascinating study of this connection holding us all together,” she says.

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