It is with great pride that the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam now presents the first museum solo exhibition of Aji V.N. He was born in the Kerala region of India in 1968, and has now been living in Rotterdam for more than 10 years. In 2010 he was nominated for the Dolf Henkes Prize. The Stedelijk Museum displayed his work in the group exhibition entitled Paradise Lost. Monumental Drawings (2008) and in All About Drawing. 100 Dutch Artists (2011). In 2008, the Museum purchased a monumental drawing from Aji V.N., which has been almost permanently on show in the collection presentations that have been held since then. On this drawing, a flock of vultures gather around weaponry, evoking ideas of cleaning up after the battle.
Aji V.N. Drawings displays a rich selection of his work, with many new and previously unshown drawings, including works on loan from India and the Netherlands. To accompany the exhibition, the monograph Aji V.N. Tekeningen / Drawings, produced in conjunction with Gallery Mirchandani + Steinrücke in Mumbai and with the support of private lenders, will be published. This work contains an extensive interview and an essay written by Wilma Sütö, curator of modern and present-day art at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam.
Landscapes from various continents converge in the drawings of Aji V.N.: familiar and distant worlds. Occasionally a Dutch scene appears, with straight rows of poplars, and then again we see the luxurious green of coco palms, banana plants and cashew nut trees, characteristic of the landscape of his youth. But even more frequently we see an imaginary world.
The earliest-shown work dates from 2004 and could be a self-portrait. On the paper we see a fragile youth, as in a dream world, up to his waist in water. Aji V.N. remarks: ‘It is a self-portrait, but not in the strict sense of the term. It is more a reproduction of an imaginary situation. The location is indeterminate, independent of the Netherlands, independent of India, without any specific geography. (…) The boy is bathing in the water and in the light of the moon and the stars, while he has some kind of understanding with the fish. This physical experience is compacted into a world of thoughts: a philosophical image.’ The drawing, dating from the early years of the artist’s time in Rotterdam, not only induces questions about our position in the universe, but also comprises specific reflections on life in various parts of the world. As Aji V.N. explains in the publication to accompany the exhibition: ‘The River Ganges, which issues from the divinity Shiva, flows from the Himalayas through India as the sacred river. And this holy water blends with the water of the world. Regardless of whether it comes out of a tap or falls as a shower upon the earth: where water is, there is a unity with the source.’
Between 2005 and 2009, Aji V.N. created various drawings and watercolours of oceans and rivers. He himself has vanished from the images, leaving space for his public: those who stand in front of the metres-high drawings are pulled in, as occurs with a seascape recently purchased by the Museum. Looking out over the ocean, the surf spatters up right before our feet, and before we become aware of it we are mesmerized by the water.
The intensity of the drawings of Aji V.N. arises from his concentrated compositions, and also from the shades he applies with the precision of a miniaturist, despite the large format. This paradoxical combination of scale and nuance evokes the idea of luxurious refinement.
This also applies to the exuberant hairstyles of the yogis and yoginis, men and women who place themselves day and night at the service of tantric philosophy, and who have been presented full-frontal and life size on drawing paper since 2008. The stately posture reminds us of living statues. They pose in the style of classic sculptures, naked, with the self-consciousness of Greek divinities: the women as the three Graces, the men as a sacred trinity. But they use the mystic sign language of Indian dance and Buddhist art. They arrest us with their concentrated gestures and looks, rooted to the spot like guardians of life.
In de tekeningen van Aji V.N. zinderen verschillende werelden door elkaar heen. Landschappen van diverse continenten komen erin samen, herkenbare en verre werelden. Nu eens is het Hollandse uitzicht herkenbaar, met hoge populieren, dan weer domineert het overdadige groen van kokospalmen, bananenplanten en cashewnotenbomen, kenmerkend voor het landschap van zijn jeugd. Maar vaker nog zien we een denkbeeldige wereld.
Aji V.N. werd in 1968 geboren in de streek Kerala in India en woont inmiddels ruim tien jaar in Rotterdam. Met trots presenteert het Stedelijk Museum Schiedam zijn eerste museale solotentoonstelling. Met bruiklenen uit verzamelingen in India en Nederland, omvat dit overzicht een rijke selectie van zijn tekeningen op groot formaat.
Sinds 2008 verschijnen yogi’s en yogini’s levensgroot en frontaal op het tekenpapier, mannen en vrouwen die zich dag en nacht in dienst stellen van de tantristische levensfilosofie. Ze poseren als levende sculpturen: de vrouwen herinnerend aan de drie gratiën, de mannen een heilige drie-eenheid. Met geconcentreerde gebaren en blikken adresseren ze ons, en maken ze zelf pas op de plaats, als wachters van het bestaan.