If Vincent van Gogh painted swirling brushstrokes to depict leaves of a tree growing out of rocky terrain in The Mulberry Tree, in Gustav Klimt’s Tree of Life, the twirling branches reach out to the sky. The central motif in innumerable iconic works, the tree, has featured in varied shades and tonalities over centuries. An exhibition at Delhi’s India International Center brings together some of these diverse engagements as 40 artists explore it as the central theme. Befittingly titled ‘Vriksha’, the collection celebrates the numerous depictions — from the mythical folk stories that speak of mystical trees to the need to respect nature. “One of the most historic things is the Tree of Life. It has remained the same over the centuries. I thought it would be interesting to see how we are using it in different mediums,” says curator Uma Nair.
Working on the exhibition for over a year now, Nair has brought together a collection that represents the modern and the contemporary. In muted shades, if Arpana Caur’s 2008 canvas Bones Prayer — Prayer for Trees, emphasises on the need to maintain an ecological balance, with a tree that shares the canvas with skyscrapers representing urbanisation, in his collages, Mukesh addresses the relationship between technological advancement and nature. Simran Lamba creates a stark landscape with tar and oils. Taking forward the miniature tradition, Arpitha Reddy’s Kalpavriksha is replete with mythological elements, with monkeys frolicking on her gold tree.
Central to the showcase is Jyoti Bhatt’s ‘Kalpavriksha’ series, where the Baroda veteran depicts the divine tree and tales that speak of it in 10 intaglio prints. “The works talk about India’s indigenous root and the fables and folklore that map our very history,” says Nair.
Best known for his heads in terracotta and bronze, Jaipur-based Himmat Shah shares his tree drawings for the exhibition and Dutch artist Aji VN celebrates nature through surreal landscapes. In bright colours, S Paul lends impressionism to his photographs. On a table are twigs surrounded with Pondicherry-based Saraswati Renata’s flowers in ceramic and in Sonia Sareen’s work, a bronze head grows out of roots.
Inspired by myths, legends and nature, representing the Gond art tradition are three of its leading names. Venkat Shyam presents a bright narrative filled with numerous elements, whereas Japani Shyam paints her tree in gold with a deer underneath, in a rather serene work.
Bhajju Shyam paints his rural scape with an elephant.
There is Delhi too — in Rupin Thomas’s photographs of Sundar Nagar. Just back from the Venice Biennale, Soham Gupta’s A Dying City photographs a fallen tree in the dark.
The exhibition at India International Center is on till July 12.