In the paintings of Poonam Chandrika Tyagi, there manifests a world, which is infested with ancient myths, primordial energies of Eros, representations of erotic and sublime passions. An iconic woman who is almost like a contortionist’s disciple floats and occupies the pictorial space, which evokes a sense of Indian mural traditions. She is a ‘Nayika’ in a strong traditional sense and a ‘rebel’ in a very contemporary sense.
As the famous Turkish novelist and Nobel laureate, Orhan Pamuk puts it, in every woman’s life there is a garden where entry is denied even to the husband. In this secret garden of thoughts, a woman nurtures her own world, if denied with a room of her own, she builds several castles for herself in the vicinity of this garden. These works of Poonam reveal that such gardens exist and its irresistible allurement cannot be overlooked. Though garden and women are strongly associated with the scriptural notion of sin, this artist discards those mythologies and stands bold before the beholder; her presence is at once a challenge and an invitation.
Poonam’s surrogate image of her ‘self’, the protagonist in these paintings, is a woman with large brooding eyes. Like the Nayikas in the Ajanta murals, she intently looks at the things around her, letting her gaze (which could also be a counter gaze) to participate and direct the narratives unfold before her eyes. Poonam deliberately chooses to establish this relationship of gaze only with certain characters such as the tiger, cat and birds. The image of a man is present through his very own absence.
It would be interesting to read Poonam’s works through this absence of man. The presence of absence haunts the onlooker like the marks left on a paper by an erasure. These faint marks are interpolated by the images of other flora and fauna. The protagonist, while creating optical linkages with the surrounding images, extends her gaze out of the pictorial frame where the ‘erased’ man stands as a viewer. This does not mean that the artist holds some hardcore and fundamentalist feminist ideas that deny the very existence of man in a woman’s life.
Problematizing the woman-man relationship using modernist aesthetical tools vis-à-vis the socio-cultural and historic-mythical and religious narratives on the very same relationship becomes palpable in Poonam’s works. The protagonist here is aggressive though looks contemplative in facial expression and relates herself with the conventional male imageries that she carefully selects from the common repertoire of art history.
There are three predominant symbols that appear and re-appear in Poonam’s works consistently; the tiger, the cat and the bird. The image of a tiger in art simultaneously connotes the male aggression and the strength of soul. Here often the female protagonist is seen connected to the tiger either optically or physically. However, like in the image of Durga, she seems to be in control of her body, gaze and posture. There is no sense of submission indicated therefore one could comprehend it as her own tamed self, the transcended self.
The subtle irony and critique tickle up the viewer when he/she stands face to face with the paintings that depict cats. Cats, in art history are considered to be the carriers of cunningness and male manipulation. It can behave like a sage and commit any atrocious deeds. Poonam, while allowing these cats in her private garden, pokes at their vileness by portraying them as ‘sages’ with a smile. The bird represents the past, it comes from behind and flutters its wings, invites your attention to your own past (deeds). Symbolically, Poonam’s paintings show the creative world of a contemporary woman who is not only imaginative but also alert in all possible ways.