As we inch towards the middle of the month of December, the Christmas celebrations are almost here. This year end festival that has a lot of religious, spiritual and cultural significances, and also gives us a chance to re-look the stories behind the birth of Jesus Christ, nativity scenes, etc.
Taking a cue from here is the art exhibition titled, ‘Engraved Treasures – Contemporary responses to 18th century prints from the MoCA Collection’ which will be held at the Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa, from December 11, 2022 to January 15, 2023.
It is a group exhibition that features the works of nine artists and their interpretation of the Bible from 18th century.
BEHIND THE EXHIBITION
Lina Vincent, who has curated this exhibition, informs that all the artists were invited to respond to a single object, an 18th Century Bible with engraved works within it. It involved lots of illustrations around the birth of Christ, such as the ‘Annunciation’ and ‘Flight to Egypt’, to name a few.
“We built a focus around imagery, reflecting the birth of Christ and his young life, to commemorate the time of Christmas. In the process, each of the artists interacted with the material at multiple levels – through a physical plane, with the book and its relevance as a text; through the history of European art and printmaking; from the point of view of the legacy of the printed page and publishing; and through the collective contemporary experience of being in Goa, a former Portuguese colony that reveals a complex mingling of cultures,” explains Vincent.
The focal point of this exhibition is engraving, a printmaking technique which was developed in mid-1400s in Europe, in a goldsmith’s workshop, that in a way took over wood-block prints.
“Goldsmiths possessed the right combination of design sensibilities and technical understanding. They used engraving to decorate and inscribe metalwork. From this process emerged the engraving of copper printing plates to produce artistic images on paper. This was first seen in Germany – which is known for its innovation in print technology – and later Italy. Engraving turned out to be a historically important method of producing images on paper. It was used for commercial reproductions and illustrations for books and magazines, in map making and in artistic printmaking. Very prominently, the technique is said to have grown and expanded through its use in the printed Christian Bible,” elaborates Vincent.
ABOUT THE ART
Speaking about the works, the artists have responded to these prints of the 18th century Bible, which is from the Museum of Christian Art’s collection, in its artistic way — mostly drawing from their personal experiences and how they look at it.
Artist Yolanda de Sousa Kammermeier’s pen and ink work depicts four different biblical scenes drawing from her childhood memories — the stories from the Portuguese bible which her grandmother narrated to her as a child.
Delving deep into the history of printmaking, Vijay Bhandare’s work explores the intrinsic qualities of an etching print.
Onkar Kshirsagar and Verodina de Sousa, both respond to the theme through tactile expression.
Kshirsagar transforms the referenced engraved images in three-dimensional form through clay sculpting.
“Verodina’s figurative tableaux follow her unique representational style of simplified, elongated figures, as visible in the sculptures of Jesus and Mary with the infant, in ‘The Flight into Egypt’. With an extensive practice of sculpture and stoneware, she dwells on aspects that are, at once, divine and deeply humanistic,” says Vincent.
In Loretti Pinto’s drawing on linen, she brings out subtle narratives. “She communicates realities of human life and is deeply aware of the relationship between (hu)man and nature, (hu)man and the divine, and the eternal possibility of healing,” explains Vincent.
In a graphic screen-print, Nishant Saldanha identifies with Mary, mother of Jesus, in the scene of the Nativity. Saldanha made this drawing in Lisbon this October after he visited medieval churches in France and Germany.
“In this work, it is not clear if it is the very moment of the birth, or just before, or just after. The Christ is outlined, but He is not fully there. Everyone is expectant. I used the opportunity to channel what I imagine to be a great night of uncertainty — the mother’s anxiety filling up the room, the father’s helplessness to provide — all of the elements swimming with no ground to stand on,” says Saldanha. Interestingly, this drawing also appears in a new anthology titled Indian Christmas — Essays, Memories, Hymns edited by Jerry Pinto and Madhulika Liddle.
In his litho-graphite works, Viraj Naik looks beyond the main protagonists – Mary and Joseph, the three kings, and the shepherds in the nativity – to the many anonymous persons, and creatures, both domestic and wild, who could have also been present at the birth of Jesus.
The notion of time and space, and their physical and transcendental dimensions become part of Lester Silveira’s photographic series on religious architecture.
Asavari Gurav’s work, which is made by using the traditional technique of casein and tempera on wooden panels, is built into a theatrical space but connected to the open book format. The work focuses on Mary with Baby Jesus in the central section; they are placed within a blooming garden, in the heart of nature.
“I was always fascinated by frescoes. I wanted the object I made to be opened up and looked at like a book. The sanctity of the object is held together by the act of making this object. Looking at history, I wanted to bring forth the theatre of the human condition. Mary in the garden and Infant Jesus holding roses is a symbolic gesture as they stand in the garden of hope, in the face of changing times. The garden becomes an allegorical stage, bringing together the idea of love and a spiritual connection towards nature,” explains Gurav about her work.
The exhibition titled ‘Engraved Treasures – Contemporary responses to 18th century prints from the MoCA Collection’ will be held at the Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa, from December 11, 2022 to January 15, 2023 (10 am to 4.30 pm)