Alchemy, Diaspora and Heterotopia
ARTISTS: Ayisha Abraham, Ashish Avikunthak, Matti Braun, James Lee Byars, Maya Deren, Zarina Hashmi, Runa Islam, Nasreen Mohamedi, Lisa Oppenheim, The Otolith Group, Tejal Shah, Alexandre Singh
Curated by Shezad Dawood and Tom Trevor
Devi Art Foundation, New Delhi, 9 November 2013 – 21 April 2014
The iconography of the black sun, like other similar symbols that have both an outer and inner meaning, occurs in various cultures and contexts – and likewise has evolved, altered and been distorted over time. In this its very nature is diasporic, which lends weight to the idea that like symbols, each of us, wherever we find ourselves, are similarly displaced and fluid.
Its origins are in our primal relationships to day and night, and the sun and the moon, and so a partial or fully occluded circle is a common symbolic starting point. The relationship of the Black Sun to alchemy and transformation, in various cults and schools has been well documented in the writings of Carl Jung, and equally in the art historical writings of Ajit Mookerjee. Julia Kristeva’s key work: Black Sun – Mourning and Melancholia, provides a more personal reading of the dark night of the soul, of the individual journey that accompanies the eclipse, as a literal or symbolic counter-part. But all three writers acknowledge the transformative potential of this inner journey that mirrors the figurative eclipse.
The exhibition looks at a group of artists, beginning with James Lee Byars in the 1960s, and Nasreen Mohamedi and Zarina Hashmi in the 1970s, who use or encounter the iconography of the Black Sun, or engage with a spirit of alchemy and hermetic meaning that seems to parallel the inner journey, and its consequent relationship to the larger context of the 20th Century and on into the present.
As there is no one path, and each artist presents their own universe, what we have is a series of interlinking and discursive possibilities, that point to what the French philosopher Michel Foucault termed: heterotopia, many possibilities co-existing and each presenting their own unique environment.
This can be witnessed in the use of political narrative and archive material in the work of The Otolith Gorup and Ayisha Abraham, or equally in the functioning of the moon as the literal alchemical agent in Lisa Oppenheim’s: Lunagrams, or as symbol of the divine androgyne in Tejal Shah’s Unfurling series.
The gradual ‘eclipse’ of the ideals of the Enlightenment in society has brought with it a sense of uncertainty about the future and a loss of belief in continual progress. In parallel, the concerns of artists have increasingly turned towards the unknown, speculating upon the unpredictable future that lies ahead, and taking refuge in a subjective world of poetic transformation.
A fully-illustrated 192-page publication, Black Sun: Alchemy, Diaspora and Heterotopia, has been produced to accompany the exhibition, published by Ridinghouse in association with Devi Art Foundation and Arnolfini: ISBN 978 1 905464 84 5