Text by Malini Iakat

Alakshmi, the goddess daughters are never named after, gives this series its name. She is the dark side of the ever welcome Lakshmi, Goddess of Fortune, who really needs no introduction. Alakshmi is Sister Misfortune. And she does need an introduction. For the simple reason that she is so minimally engaged with. For our natural, human response is to shy away from the unpleasant.

But how dark is dark? Is it as disturbing as we have been led to believe or is it merely the rest of the story? And thus begins an exploration both disturbing and ultimately triumphantly life affirming. An exploration not just of duality but of multiplicity. This is the exhilarating and unfathomably complex universe of Woman appearing as she does in her various and beguiling avatars in the pantheon of goddesses of Hindu mythology. Sister Misfortune is also a probe - compelling, uncompromising and fearless – like the goddesses themselves – into our attitudes - women towards themselves, men towards women. How does the idea of a goddess coexist with Everywoman? How do we so casually dismiss, disrespect, disregard and defile in our quotidien existence that which we have bedecked with gold and enshrined in a temple?

We consider all this and more as Smruthi Gargi Eswar masterfully manipulates the almost melodic fluidity, rhythmic forms and floral refrains of the Art Nouveau style to liberate the goddesses from their traditional representations – the stiff starched unsexed beings of calendar art and mythological soap operas.

Medium : K3 pigment print on Hahnemuhle Etching archival paper
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The lightness of the art form is a message itself. It contemporises. It liberates. The elaborate ornamentation is not a mere frill – it is a philosophy: aesthetics is important, beauty for its own sake is as elevating as any virtue. We are asked to take another look at the very idea of what sanctity is. Can we a light a diya to these goddesses? This an important question, probably the most important for it leads us to contemplate what it is that we celebrate. It challenges our entire notion of who we are, touches upon the question of conditioning and the choices we make. The myths are choking with disconsonant tales in which the gods let us down constantly. Tales of lust, greed, pettiness, anger abound. Still we desperately seek tidiness. The world is not tidy. And the choice we make is between a life lived within the confines of a safe and sterile box, sacrificing a true experience of what it is to be human, or we explore the other side of the cosmos and live richly.

The use of bold fonts, lush foliage combined with the classic Japonisme of flat perspectives and monochromes, give these art pieces a flamboyance that is almost cinematic. There is, in fact, the sense of the silent movie star about the goddesses – the oozing sex appeal easily worn, the old world glamour. This understated sexuality – the most confident kind – is no accident. The goddesses are sexy. It is an inherent and inescapable truth about them. So far the the general subcontinental nod to sex as erotic and pleasure inducing as opposed to the functional reproductive approach is when the great erotic temple art is uneasily considered. Perhaps considered is too generous. Tolerated is probably more apt. As far as temple art goes, there is no choice but to be respectful because these are ancient voices and when ancient voices speak the subcontinent listens - albeit with averted eyes.

And here the artist has us looking again - at what political and social agendas over the ages have succeeded in obscuring but never obliterating – the inconvenient truth about sex. Sex is life and life is sexy. So the goddesses are brought daringly down to earth from their heavenly pedestals. We can no longer contemplate them from the safe distance that deification and sanctity creates. It is a two way mirror which reflects the woman in the goddess and the goddess in the woman. And we are compelled to engage with the mesmerizing creature that emerges and spills out of the easy definitions of tradition. We are in essence forced to engage with ourselves. As we view each goddess, immerse ourselves in each facet, the question of who or what a woman is broadens, becomes greater. It becomes once more the only question that ever matters, the question mankind has asked over and over again in an attempt to unravel that eternal conundrum: who are we?