Throughout history artists have always found the human figure to be an irresistible subject. Images of the human body reveal a great deal about the cultures that produce them. Whether fashion ads, state portraits, news photos, or works of visual art, they will always mirror, to some degree, the social and political conditions under which they were made. If an image is provocative, that is, if it strays into forbidden territory, or makes explicit something that we don’t wish to acknowledge or confront, it will spark debate and may even stimulate change. On the other hand, affirmative and celebratory pictures can bring people together and bolster our sense of community. This is how figurative images can be said to be political, though they are pictures of individual bodies; they stand for a larger truth about us all. This persistence in featuring the human image in art speaks to our continued need to study ourselves; to re-interpret our personal and collective ideologies about human character; and to re-clarify the importance of our own image as an icon. One could also align to existentialist philosophy, which asserts that, as conscious beings, humans would always find themselves already in a world, a prior context and a history that is given to consciousness, and that humans cannot think away that world. It is inherent and indubitably linked to consciousness, and the body becomes the paradigmatic arena emblematic of the contemporary human condition, as a marker of the passage of time, of desires and destinies, of the private and the public, both intimate and epic.

Meena Deora, despite being a woman artist, deals with the corporeal figure of the nude male, overriding the often expected responses of a feminine experience via a feminine sensibility. Having trained under the multifaceted artist, Rameshwar Broota, her work bear many stylistic similarities to her mentor, especially in the vigorous dimensions of the monumental male body, but there are several detours as well. They also remind one of the male figures of Michaelangelo in their robust musculature. These figures stretch and strain against the frame, as if in an existential angst. Each figure also layers upon the other, composed over a background of rough brush-marks and squiggles, violent in their implications. Are they the many shadows of the self, which struggles for a space in our increasingly urban claustrophobia, a Self turning upon itself? Or are they mute witnesses to contemporary realities that cannot be countered or controlled? These bodies also serve as expressive dialogues of mobility, migration, crowds, and evoke feelings of anonymity/ aloneness/ jostling in a crowd as a complex metaphor of our times, our world, and our aspirations, the human body as the microcosm of our larger dystopian realities.


Amrita Gupta Singh

(1007 words- title & text)


Steps in time


Do we not exist in all Time?  Meena Deora’s oil paintings are evocative of the indestructibility of Time as a fourth and un-apprehended dimension. Acrobatic male figures, reminiscent of mythical heroes in their perfection of line and movement, completing the unending cyclic journey of Life and Death in an intangible medium – that     of time – a trampoline, a mesh, a tunnel of movement, invoking essays of meditated motion, yet unable to control their direction …

Meena’s work has undergone an interesting and significant evolution in a transition from the more abstract and patterned to the figurative: the human figures, although numerous in her earlier works, formed but part of the pattern or landscape of The Frieze of Time – still, frozen, enclosed, without movement except by suggestion, often dismembered as a function of the eternal pattern. The assertion of the male figure emerging into the foreground of her new works is the emergence of the individual as related to the design, in a sense of freeing from the pattern uprooting the human will, overcoming the defenselessness against the repetitive blueprint of Time, which ensnares, molding the individual resolve.

Also signified is the unbroken connection of the human will from time immemorial up to the present, and well into the future, abstracting, in a manner, the shackles of Time to allow the surfacing of the entity in the painting. If this be a kind of freedom, what will be the ultimate freedom in Meena’s oils? Perhaps the moment itself, the figure as seen in its Present, insulated against the intrusion of the Past and the Future, will become the subject of the Artist’s contemplation and inspiration. An eventual and definitive liberation from the bondage of Time.

Mariam Karim

(Author of My Little Boat, published by Penguin India)




Perhaps, one could say, that people do not change from one generation to another. For, as far back as we know, people are about the same as they were. Indeed nothing would seem to change from one generation to another except the things seen. And the things seen make the generation – the one of seeing and being seen. And yet, one could also add, that beneath the surface stream of the historical process flows a subtler, and perhaps ultimately more significant current of change: gradual evolution in ways of perceiving, and hence of being. Ways of seeing, ways of feeling, ways of apprehending the subtler aspects of reality are continually changing, hinting at the distinct psychic atmosphere of an age. This may well be dubbed the complexion of an epoch – it’s psychological climate.

Well, the response of artists to the changes of such a climate is scarcely unified, but yet some of the artists, at the least voice crucial characteristics of the age they live in. I say the foregoing reflecting on Meena Deora’s artistic preoccupations. This is her very first solo showing, but I have been acquainted with her works for a sufficient length of time to try to gauge the inner nature of her preoccupations. Already, and earlier, her kinship – I mean her works’- with the hoary past of mankind’s artistic expressions was palpable. In this even if we do not bring to mind the masses of reliefs, of figurines on Indian temple complexes – those vast cavalcades of life, that grand procession of teeming humanity, we could profitably recollect the other great painted reliefs on ancient Egyptian tombs and necropolises, as in the arts of the Chaldeans, the Assyrians, the Persians, all reliefs of men on the move. These reliefs, as the memory of athletes and the horses of Delphi, as the great Olympian sports, and at any other such like, like the Romans, are a food for thought.

Here, then, reappears a neo-historical imagination reliving the saga of humanity. In her work, on one hand there is the vast, patterned host of, an as if, actually palpable humanity (droves of well-turned male bodies and quite as enjoined for the Spartan or Athenian sports – a veritable flower of manhood), and a parallel sculptureque replication of the life of the ‘forked’ creature in it’s natural state, forcefully impressed on granite walls and ramparts of monumentally imposing structures. This last one is the imaginative opposite of the realistic first. And the two together, being anew redone by the painter in a fresh, a third ensemble, for our visual-cum-mental engagement. Is this not done, so that we pause in our unthinking diurnal rounds, and take stock of our life in togetherness? Over here we read the unity of the collective, and then also of the individual fact, that is as and when, some anonymous seeming detail is suddenly highlit to stand out emphatically against what is a distant pattern, or only an aesthetic design made up of a faceless humankind. At this moment, the said single human form becomes eminently sculptural – the form of an image keeping it’s contours in line with the principles or norms of the Greco-Roman art of yore. These are well rounded figures, counter-pointed upon entirely formal structures, as already suggested. At any rate, and thereon, a dramatization of – a bold one – results, that of the close-by realistic, as of the far, the miniaturized, the tiny.

The deep, wine red or rose, colouring of all this – one and at the same time- lends the work a glow, a climatric. Here, thus, is the choreography of what are event-pregnant, figurative tableaus. In this way the work is nothing if not purportedly historic – high moments of human existence – watersheds, that is, then when things come to a boil, history seems to turn a page, a fresh chapter begins; maybe a French revolution, maybe an Aztec assembly on the eve of major action; some hair-raising point of no return. Or, it could be, the splendour, and majesty of the state; else, it is equally likely that a great crowd is on the run, else looms a holocaust on the horizon. Here, in sum, every move, every stroke is poised for action, and rare is the posture of at an ease body. What flurry of group activity; life in the crowd; leg lifted for the next step along with that of a million others. Is this not the face of the time we live in, more than ever before? More and more metros, of million on million of the mankind, and you have an ocean of humanity. That appears to be the complexion of things, now, and of the future in store. Frightening or exhilarating?  does each participate in the other in full communion, or is it the working out of the automatic part of our relentless mechanism? No other than unconsciousness? The question perhaps remains unanswered. But the artist in Meena suggests it both visually and semantically – that is – in terms of implication.

Naturally, behind all this is much training, a grass root drawing, but at the same level, most artists too have to acquire similar skills to catch the gestures, movements and the postures of the restless human body, mostly observed in motion. But what to do with your crafty acquirements? What this painter has done is to put them to meaningful and topical uses. As I said above, humankind is now very much on it’s own. It’s world now is not the so-called ‘other world’, or non-human terrestrial life even – and the which it has willy-nilly learnt to control and master to an amazing degree, but itself, it’s own kind alone. That, or the warring collectivities of the species. It is man’s own fate or life meaning that is on the anvil. In short, what to do with ourselves, that is when everything, or almost everything, seems materially to have been solved? There could well be claustrophobia on the cards! And, if not, if one is wise, a great psychic rise; refinement and articulation of ones humanity, that is, of our dealings with our fellows.

By design or inadvertently, Meena’s artistic assays suggest something like this. An exercising of her artistic sinews, the work certainly is, but it is surely not a pretended shot at larger meanings. At least the vector of the work is groping towards them. In any case that is how all artists deepen or widen the area of their concerns, which beginning as an unclear impulse gradually takes shape, mature, and in the end is to express vital common truths. The artistic intention becoming stronger by each move in this line, the work finding an assured voice. Having seen the painter at her job along the same line for a while, I do believe she has made more firm, more definitive, that which was only implicit and quite toungeless. Her, compositions, we recall, are wrought out of the material of, almost invariably, male human bodies. And, thereby, the preponderant psychic element of the genre is human will, sheer self determination, rather then any contemplative stance. Yet, nevertheless, we the viewers of the genre, are made to reflect on the monumental spread of that grand spectacle, of ourselves, on the go. Though in which direction that may be, whether positive or fatal, heading towards the abyss is uncertain. The last choice is of course a sobering, cathartic thought, and the which, as earlier implied, gives us a turn.

Unlike in the works of several recent Indian painters, ones who also go for figuration, there is no sedentary or passive stance in the present case. I do not imply that all outward activity is valuable, on the contrary. And nevertheless, how else pull ourselves out of our present imaginative torpor? that is except by making the experience of our life on earth imaginatively vivid, by perceptively seeing that we are the makers or destroyers of our destiny, of our own fate – that we are the root cause of whatever happens on earth. The finger points at us, in our shames, as in our glory – namely, as and when we take things neatly in hand, accept individual and collective responsibility. Meena is, if not in so many words, voicing some such coded message. One way of responding to works of art is to take in the kinetics of their form. If these have been tackled successfully, we are stimulated sensorially and, thus too, a bit psychically, that is, when the happy application of colour charms us, treats us, as if, to a lavish feast. These things are a must, and without which any work is really dud. But, after a while, these simple physical reactions wear off, the overal impact lessens. It is thus that we must now go on to grasp the secret grammer and or logic of the work’s hidden design upon us. Well, only now alone the idea behind the work will make our hair stand on end, that is, with the realisation of matters of vast, life and death import. No doubt the nuances of this idea perforce have got to be expressed subtly, or we refuse to be persuaded of their value, fail to be lifted out of our routine, quotidian selves.

I believe Meena – still somewhere in the early stages of her artistic career – appears to be advancing towards an objectively notable direction, that of a longer seeing. Her essential artistic commitment, voluntarily takes on the onus of highlighting serious common concerns. Artists, but of course, must play with their materials and media, but then this play ought to become more earnest, and hint at fateful or transcendental states of being. At these very moments the illusions of art help materialize the truth of reality, of that in which our lives are immersed. Like all art work, this one too needs considerable more musing and mulling over, and that from all possible angles. But, and finally, the whole exhilaration of art inheres in it’s very process, and not merely in the fruit, and this even when the ‘fruit’ may happen to taste good. It is for this same reason that we deem the search, that is art activity, more valuable than the end result. I have a hunch that our painter will honour this basic artistic premise, and continue in the arduous and too often stormy passage of creative making; and that, in the end, she will bestow handsome life dividends, to the community of which she is a member.

Keshav Malik.

New Delhi.
December 23, 2001. 

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