Neo-Tantric Art

In the 1960s a number of Indian artists began experimenting with an abstract art patterned on the art forms of certain Buddhist and Hindu sects practising a form of meditation known as Tantra. Tantra involves the worship of the dual male-female principle embodied in the physical union of Goddess Kali and her consort Shiva. This sexual union echoes their, and by extension, human origin in an indivisible oneness. The human tantric strives for this primeval unity through secret sexual rituals which involve the contemplation of religious images, sexual objects like the lingam, and sacred geometricised diagrams known as yantras. The art form based on Tantra is found in many countries in Asia.

The Neo-Tantric art movement got its initial impetus in 1965 with an exhibition of paintings by Biren De which appeared to take off on Tantra art. Other artists soon followed, including Ghulam Rasool Santosh, K.C.S. Panniker, Jagdish Swaminathan, Shankar Palsikar, Haridasan, Om Prakash and Prafulla Mohanty. For these artists, the religious art form seemed likely to develop their form of abstract painting into a genuinely Indian art idiom.

They were also attracted by Tantra art's inherent qualities, which seemed ready-made for uses which could compare with contemporary abstract art elsewhere. Santosh's compositions, with their Cubist nuances, seemed to relate the artistic practices of the past with very contemporary forms of expression.

Though most paintings in this genre offer religious resonances at first glance, most Neo-Tantric artists insist that they explore its artistic possibilities more than the transcendent aims of Tantra art. Swaminathan is very clear that the plastic-visual possibilities of tantric art were more important than Tantric philosophy. A counterpoint is provided, however, by Santosh who sees in his work an attempt to express 'the colourless through colour, the formless through form.'

Present-day artists who explore the possibilities of this form of abstraction include Prabhakar Kolte and Mehlli Gobhai.

(See Profiles of individual artists for more information)

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