Geetanjali Pande is an Indian artist, whose work is inspired by Mughal art and architecture. Through an exploration of pattern, Geetanjali has created a unique and distinct style.
We talk to Geetanjali about finding inspiration, how cultural heritage influences creativity and creating a contemporary aesthetic from a traditional artform.
Your works are inspired by Islamic geometry. What made you develop an interest in this artistic tradition?
Across India, in temples and mosques this art form has can be seen in structures which are more than a 1000 years old. I wanted to build my understanding and knowledge of this art which has been integral to my part of the world for so long.
When I started this journey the immense possibilities to interpret a single pattern really piqued my attention. The fact that this traditional art form adheres strictly to the rules of geometry has continued to hold my interest over the years. This art form is religion agnostic and versatile that it has been incorporated even in the architecture of Hindu temples albeit in very basic four fold patterns.
How did you train to become an artist specializing in these traditional artforms?
Initially I just scoured the internet for free resources, but once I started understanding the art form, I then took online classes that helped me to figure out which areas I wanted to specialize in. I believe this kind of a niche art form is all about self-learning and continuous hours of practice.
The western world which was exposed to this art as they discovered the Eastern traditions, developed their own approach to create these patterns. However it is important to highlight, that the western method of constructing these patterns is flawed because that method does not allow for tessellation of the basic tile which in turn leads to distortion of shapes and angles. In its purest form, this traditional art and the four fold, five fold patterns and the angles that they create must adhere to a defined mathematical series, else it is considered incorrect by purists.
Has your cultural heritage influenced your creative practice?
Having travelled the length and breadth of this country and I been exposed to the Mughal (Islamic art in India is referred to as ‘Mughal Art’) and Pahari art traditions. I have been very intrigued to find out how cross-cultural influences help to shape art. For example, Rajasthani folk art has been very strongly influenced by the Muslim invasions into India which has now morphed into its own genre in their paintings and miniatures. In fact, one of the things I have learnt is that while this is geometrical art, it is heavily influenced by local designs and approaches which the artisans, architects and assimilators brought to the table, and the artistic output though similar in basic design is very nuanced in the final output depending upon the region and culture it is conceived in.
Sacred geometry is a theme within your work, can you share more about your approach and inspiration?
There is nothing sacred about the Geometric art that I work on. Yes it is found in mosques and the Holy Quran is embellished with this art. The sanctity of a place/book always gets enhanced with work that looks so close to perfect because of its adherence to geometry and the need for precision which is a hallmark of this artform. I have also seen it on the entrance to Hindu temples and a few motifs are also found in Buddhist monasteries. Art, I believe is a terrific bridge to connect human beings and that really inspires me which is what I want to show case through this work.
Your work has a contemporary aesthetic, how did you create this style?
Just as architecture and sculpture in India was strongly influenced by the Gandhara school so I also I believe that with so much of social media available, we must allow incorporating other influences into this artform. I experiment continuously with embroidery and blackwork motifs. I have also tried to include North European motifs in some of my work. Lately, I am excited by the Japanese Sashiko embroidery and have even tried incorporating that into my work style. It also helps that when I take a break from my art work, I do a lot of embroidery and crochet work which to a constant osmosis of ideas and craft across various art forms.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I started an Instagram account when I gave up a Corporate career. And the highlight has been my discovery of the Traditional method of constructing these patterns. It was a chance finding on YouTube which led me to take classes under Mohamad Aljanabi who I believe is the only Master who can teach this art form, particularly because of language and cultural barriers.
I am still a student of this craft, sharpening my skills and really working to create a space of my own in this realm.
Your works are incredibly detailed, how long does it take for you to create a piece?
The ‘behind-the-scene’ for any art form - be it acting or dance or painting is a long and arduos process. The conceptualization of an art piece can take anywhere from 5-20 hours and then depending on the size of the art work, the time spent varies. I have also spent the last four years to get an understanding of watercolor as a medium. It is not an easy medium to grasp and my evolution as an artist is a combination of not only understanding geometry but also using the transparency of watercolours to enhance the purity of these patterns. Sometimes for artistic relief and inspiration I may work on more than one piece at a time , but usually with in a month I am able to release 5 – 8 pieces of art of this nature
Which artists do you admire?
I am very experimental in my approach so, not only do I keep trying to discover new patterns but I also keep working on different renditions of the same pattern either with different motifs or just varying colour combinations. I do admire Margi Lake and Rajen Astho who are working incessantly to innovate and bring these patterns to life with their in-depth skills of painting and construction of these patterns. I also look up to Indian watercolour artists like Milind Mulick, Sanjay Bhattacharya who bring a rich colour sense to the watercolour medium.
What do you think the future of Islamic art looks like and how do you think we can continue to keep the tradition alive?
In the last couple of years thanks to people like yourself, this art form is going through a revival. For many years like any traditional art, it followed a guru-shishya principle that was handed down orally transferring the skills from father to son. The knowledge of the skill was therefore restricted to specific family groups and they almost became secretive about it. My teacher Mohamad Alajnabi came from one such family. He however decided to impart this knowledge freely. I am grateful to learn from him. By the end this year I hope to impart this knowledge to artisans working in different mediums like stonework (Gaurahari from Uttar Pradesh in India) and Nakkashi work (Usta Art from Rajasthan in India) where they could incorporate some of these patterns with contemprorary motifs to help revive dying art forms and thus also make it commercially viable for artisans.
I am also looking at partnerships with like minded artists and organizations who could support this cause.
For more information check out https://www.instagram.com/geetanjali_art/?hl=en
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