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Articles on Indian contemporary art by Swapna Vora

Random Mirrors
by Swapna Vora

July 09, 2009

(click on the small image for full screen image with captions.)

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In the city of villagers, Om Soorya tells us stories. His paintings, rather his random mirrors, reflect villagers who find themselves, overnight, in the midst of cities. In their fields, skyscrapers descend, water tanks ascend as multinationals multiply profits. Flyovers have arrived as they continue washing clothes in lakes, tramping across fields, making new paths where none existed. They need to, for an old road may vanish when a new building comes up. "Hyderabad", he says, 'became a big city suddenly."

Om Soorya's paintings show neither the past nor do they really represent our own surroundings. They have neither nightfall nor daybreak, neither cities nor villages, but images of both rural and urban life. He says he lives surrounded by contradictions: "Villages become urban when you displace someone, often improperly, from one place to another." His painting shows squares and triangles of rain, monsoon puddles and resembles Hyderabad's well-known lakes. "This is not exactly a real image, this is my representation. I paint at night sometime, but I really love the morning." Like all Indian people, he enjoys the dawn, a delightful time in the tropics. "This is my image of Hyderabad: not real but its ambiance, its complete atmosphere. Not day, not night, just a time in between or perhaps neither. I show uncertainty about time and this comes because of a particular era in my life. Where I live, it is very quiet, I enjoy nature. When you see the seven wonders of the world, you wonder why they are famous. Every place is wonderful, every single place in the world. It is very rural where I live but now there are so many multinationals. We see boards like Microsoft, Infosys, and it is becoming like New York. A big board says Franklin Templeton Investments and then you have people washing their clothes in the lake. They are not suffering, there is just no match between the landscapes, these two very different lifestyles." We speak then of the early, much loved dawn, when the world is dreamier than dreams. It is a refreshing time, a hopeful time, when the day has not yet felt old. We know when leaves turn greener and then green. These changes are noticed by many but he remarks on them.

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Untitled 20: "Hyderabad has had a Muslim culture. There are many domes, many graveyards here. Many forts here, like Golconda. I take the basic geometric forms and use them repeatedly. The lights gleaming here are water tanks."

"No people here?" I query.

"They are very irrelevant in this landscape. It is too large for humans. This is being seen from afar, it is detached, it is too big for humans."

Untitled 21: "One way with flowering trees, a way to eternity, it represents a road near my place." I ask, does this element have any resonance? "Yes, some elements are added for their visual impact on me."

Untitled 17: "We see here farms, creepers, flowers, animals and scenes from near my house. I live in a penthouse on the sixth floor and I have a 360 degree view. Nothing is near by, nothing blocks my view. Not a tall building, compared to New York." He grins. A cow has a halo.


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"To emphasize it, to enjoy the light, the outline, the color. Even I can't say completely what a painting will be like. What it becomes, sometimes it is out of my control, it just happens."

Untitled 23: "I saw a photo and wondered where the head is. From a photo, I put it in my landscape." (I thought the head had gone into the green, picturesque earth!) "There is lush grass, greenery, a person in a yogic stance, an indication of health: I always used birds and animals, creepers too. They are like thoughts for you do not know where they start and where they end. You do not know their roots."


"My own form of yoga", he says enigmatically. "I create my own!"

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Untitled 10: This painting could be a on a space station. "The hill is there but not the steps. Everyday you see a new crack in the earth, a new road, a new bridge. A hill is being demolished and there is lots of real estate. These trees I have seen but I also see them with my mind…. I heard China is making a road to the Himalayas. Where is the thrill of reaching a mountain like that? When you reach the top, there is nothing there. But on the way, you see many things, many things happen. Getting there is all about life, all your experiences are on the way. On Shabarimala too, there is a road now. A mountain has its own lights, its own electricity. If you take Shabarimala, the light is always there. You get a glow. Believers, I am told, see it, experience it. Science and science alone is not enough to prove anything."


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Untitled 9: A soft monsoon sky is much loved for its beauty all over India, and here it overlooks small hills, residences, bridges. "These are", he says, "Very archetypal images. They are repeated again, these geometric forms, basic geometric forms."

I think all night through Indians listen to the rain on the window, watching fields become lakes. Perhaps rice shoots will arise before the buildings. "Do you meditate?" I ask.

"Yes, but no deity, I meditate on myself."

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Untitled 8: "Have you seen the light on the mountains, in the mountains?" "Yes", he smiles, delighted. "When you dig somewhere, and take out something out from the earth, there is always light. I always know you can see the light. There is light coming from the earth. I see it. Science may say only the sun provides light. No, the earth too provides light. In a dark place, I still see some illumination. I walk in the dark very nicely. In Kerala, in my village, there was no electricity long ago. I could see the road and know where a snake might lurk, where an insect could bite you. Where there might be a snake here, I could guess accurately, intuitively. For, this depends on my own inner light, not just an outer lamp."

Untitled 8: "This shows more a stage before the sun arrives. I feel time, the concept of time is very personal. For a butterfly or a human, it must surely be very different. Butterflies may die in 15 days, a tortoise lives a hundred years or more. They must experience time differently. Time is different if you are in Hyderabad or in New York. Time, our experience of it, is existent perhaps only on our planet." We speak then of people who manage to have buckets of time as if it is a river into which they can always dip a bucket and bring out whatever they need.


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Untitled 19: "This is a place near my studio. No buildings today, but soon maybe. I regret that. The roads depicted are actually just tamped earth, the leaves look like flowers and give impressions of flowers."

Then we witness the beautiful large blue painting with its underwater waves. "And yet you see the moon," he says. The fish swim in the moonlight, not in the water or out of it. There are jewels for we all feel there are jewels in the oceans. "This underwater city is entirely different from a dry city, this parallels my other work. It can confuse what is real and unreal. I see with my own eyes, you with yours and it can be, no, it is entirely different." It is like seeing your face in a mirror which has been reversed left to right and your familiar face looks different. You can feel bad because it is, not what you thought, disoriented.

"I use a fort, a submerged fort. I saw one in Kerala, another in Hyderabad. A fort represents memories, colonial memories. A poem says all monuments one day will be a thing of the past." Fish swim, skeletons of sea creatures are lifted by currents and men, bones and limbs float. Surely children would love this picture, it is like having an aquarium or rather a fairy tale, a magical underground kingdom where light seeps through. "I like Potter and Lord of the Rings. I love fantasy. I prefer fairy tales to Superman because there is no control on what happens."

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Untitled 15: This continues his feelings, a scene without a discernible time. It has different browns as a red dawn lights up another planet, a setting for science fiction's real estates.

Untitled 22: "A bridge, a flyover crashed. I could not go to the airport. Yes, I know about the bridge in Minnesota which crashed. People died. Future buildings need to be more planned and more carefully built."

Untitled 25: "Like Paul Coelho, I believe in alchemy I like the hero's quest. Here I show the light inside the mountain."

Untitled 16: Om Soorya says the sun never sets, the moon never rises. We think it does. Actually it does not happen.

Leaves, flowers, rain filled fields, his estates linger and glide on and we then talk of other dreams. Om Soorya recalls what is no longer here and yet as we know, the birds still sing, the dawn breaks, the same light still shines. I ask, "Where then will Hyderabad be, where will your neighborhood find itself one afternoon? And how shall we dance as our multiple lives collide but do not meet?Our people are still unlearned in a city's loneliness and remain emotionally with feelings for places and circumstances that used to be. People misplaced in cities that used to be villages just last week, what hope is there of their jumping to attention immediately? They did not leave their villages, the city was delivered, robust and bawling, on their threshold.

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"Yes, I bumped into a fence near my building. It was not there the night before and I rode too fast. A person bought land and built a fence. People then made another road by trampling on the grasses and pretty soon it was passable." He talks about his changing city, for Hyderabad has grown big too quickly. Just like raising a child, in retrospect it seems to have taken all of fifteen minutes.

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Om Soorya's paintings take him perhaps a month and half to complete and he works many hours, sometimes in the night. "I'm fast, still very young," he laughs. He works in oil and acrylic: "I don't need to wait for it to dry and so like acrylic."

"Do you get all the paints you need in Hyderabad?"

"Yes, I use local paint. I'm buying some brushes here," he smiles. From Kerala, he speaks Malayalam, and later he added Tamil, English and Hyderabad's Telegu. "I am vegetarian, I like my own cooking. In New York, I brought my own masalas and I am cooking for myself." Typically southern!


Om Soorya exhibited his paintings in New York.


Om Soorya

Born in 1977

Education :
2004 : MFA (painting) from University of Hyderabad.
2002 : BFA (painting) from College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala University.
1998 : Graduated in History from Calicut University.

Solo Shows :
2007 : Solo shows at Birla Academy of Art and Culture, Mumbai.
2006 : “Fraklin Templeton Investments” at State Gallery of Fine Arts.
2004 : “Earthworm a prophet” at Hyderabad.

Group Show :
2007 : Nature Morte Art Gallery, New Delhi.
2006 : Artist in Residency at Kalakriti Art Gallery, Hyderabad.
2003 : Participated in Peers Khoj, Residency, New Delhi.
2001 : National Workshop College of Art, New Delhi.

Om currently lives and works in Hyderabad, India.

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