The sublime, according to the German philosopher Schopenhauer, could be beautiful or malignant, but it always creates a sense of awe. It draws on the twinned emotions of great astonishment and great fear. In a global climate beset by doubt and economic uncertainty, the exhibition Ideas of the Sublime seeks to restore to art its centrality in human experience.
In a period devoid of heroism, we may return to the sublime – a concept that extends from Greek philosophy to digital technology – as lying at the core of artistic expression. However, this return to the sublime or the search for it remains quixotic. ‘The Snake Charmer’ (originally by Jean Leo Gerome) no longer displays his tricks and his nakedness inside an ‘oriental’ mosque. Instead, in Paribartana Mohanty’s video work titled ‘History of Terrorism vs Architecture’, the young boy performs in the middle of New York City, where glittering billboards and American nationalist symbols become both the background and the audience.
On a different note, in Ranbir Kaleka’s ‘The Lion and the Milk Bowl’, humans and archaic structures crumble as the king of the jungle stands contemplating his milk bowl.
Atul Dodiya’s latest shutter work titled ‘Sublime’ shows a page from the Quran in gold leaf with Robert Motherwell's well-‐known work, 'Elegy to Spanish Republic' underneath. Dodiya juxtaposes the divine text of the Quran and an elegy of our time to create a work that is both beautiful and melancholic.
Anju Dodiya, on the other hand, references the notion of the sublime as it is conceptualized in Romantic literature. She works with the idea of the storm; not just as a natural phenomenon but as a psychological motif of a passionate involvement, a physical state of turbulence and the terror of the unknown. Her work titled ‘You Will Hear Thunder’ is a diptych which seems to stand on a cliff between extreme anxiety and absolute lucidity.
These and other new works by the artists put forward a new conceptualization of the idea of the sublime.
Part of Vadehra Art Gallery's 25th anniversary celebrations.