Caesura Continuum

by Raj shahani

Raj Shahani makes interiority an inspiration to sculpt a massive body of work in clay, ceramic and bronze, interiority here is translated in abstraction through a figurative vocabulary.  Shahani attempts to put to pause movement that possess great vitality and speed, even though celebrated for its delicate pace.  Sculpting ballerinas is a vocation present in art history since the times of the Renaissance.  Ballet or to dance in latin is a classical visual form that developed from the patronage of families such as the Medicis in renaissance Italy that created its own complex vocabulary. This vocabulary consecrated together is called in French Ballet.  We as viewers consume only the visual constant of the dance form and are unable to decipher its terminologies, its stories and most importantly its rigour, that sweats the muscles of the dancer and takes constant practice, determination and patience to master.  Shahani became a sculptor reflecting these qualities essential to the artist.  

His debut show at the Jehangir Art Gallery displays 25 works in ceramic and bronze that illustrate dancers in solo and duet presentations where as a sculptor he captures pace in a pause for admiration.  The vocabulary of ballet produces itself out as alphabets in the sculpture.  Shahani holds a personal interest in opera and music and has been audience to many choreographies on numerous occasions.  But his ability to capture the movements of a dancer’s limbs announces a gaze and memory that is commendable.  This is his debut exhibition and the works do not display the naivety of a Sunday painter.  But the quest of an artist who taught himself a technique in moulding clay through industrious hours at the Artist’s League in New York.   He was out to capture a subject and it evolved to being the dancers.  

The dancers are beautiful, muscular and dramatic in their poise.  Shahani more importantly illustrates time, time often is used to discuss speed and movement such as in races and competitive sports.  Here Shahani with great ease depicts something without it needing numerisation or a clock, we see it in its facet of the visual.  It would be convenient to compare Shahani to Degas but also unfair to Shahani’s vision.  Degas was keen to paint an element of society at the end of the 19th century, it gave him enough space to caricature wealth and tradition.  Shahani is not commenting on society, his quest arrives from the interior, one of self-discovery and an attempt at art. An attempt he successfully accomplishes.  

He does not depict the ballerinas or dancers as elements to gather attention on the schisms either as JR did with the New York City Ballet, rather he depicts the dancers in a form that captures their human form in existence.  The Triumph of human ability at dance, the fact that we created such thought out pleasure, that is complex and demanding even in its stealth.  The triumph here is of the human existence, Shahani master’s technique and choreographs aesthetics that mirror his mind through a common popular subject.  It is here that we accord him the ‘chapeau’.  

The script of ballet is read with ease from Cuba to New York , from Paris to Saint Petersburg, and from Bombay until Tokyo, even though based on a complex terminology, the viewer does not have to be educated in its functions to be able to appreciate,  the duality serves, the form, its artists and its audience.  Shahani’s elements in sculpture demonstrate the continuous need for humans in the modern world to see reflections of their form, achievements and existence in art.  Simple acts that sing the achievements of our civilization that is now lost under a smog of strife, unhappiness and our acts of self-destruction.  A man who leaves a career in the corporate after having a successful run enquires about his soul.  Love comes in the form of opera and he finds himself in sculpture.