Gods, Musicians and the Bizarre - Bronze Sculptures of India
Indian artisans have been casting brass and bronze sculptures for thousands of years. Representations of Narashima, avatar of Vishnu, date back to the 3rd century CE. Narashima takes the form of a man with the head of a lion. Across many cultures there are mythical forms that combine a human form with some attributes of a powerful animal, in this case to represent superhuman strength.
The hooded cobras protecting Narashima's back and head in this Narashima sculpture represent the protection of deep forces in the world, and also in our psyche, protecting the sacred attributes of the god.
Leaving behind the spiritual realm, the next sculpture is of a domestic scene, one familiar to anyone living in an Indian village. A woman is grinding something, possibly alium, onion seeds, on an etched table, large enough to sit on. Her child is sitting by her, one hand on her shoulder.
This is a tribal sculpture, the woman has two large nose rings. The sculpture has a blackened finish.
Brass bands may be an unexpected part of Indian culture but any wedding procession weaving its way through the neighbourhood will have a noisy brass band. This saxophone player is one of several musicians we have at the Silk Road Gallery. I love the stance, very cool, and the details like the jaunty hat and the ponytail. In fact this sculpture of a musician seems to take a lot of its form from the style of American jazz musicians.
Now we enter the realm of the bizarre with this sculpture of a turtle being ridden by an animal, perhaps a monkey. What's even more bizarre is that the monkey is steering the turtle using two snakes as reins.
I love the details like the spirals of the turtle's ears and the cross hatching that creates the texture on the turtle's back. The monkey looks completely at ease as if taking a turtle for a ride is simply what every good monkey will do.
This elegant verdigris statue is an oil lamp in the form of a bird. The body of the bird lifts up to reveal the oil container and you place a cotton wick in the oil and along the spout. You light the oil soaked wick at the end of the spout. When you lift the lid you change the centre of gravity so the elegant rear foot is there to preserve the balance.
Now we enter the world of the really bizarre - an anthropomorphic statue of horned figure with a tall chimney like hat. The centre of the statue is a face with slit like eyes, long curved fangs, or a moustache, and a set of graveyard teeth that could be menacing but are maybe grinning. Round the back is a wide aperture which suggests that red hot charcoal could be placed inside the head with a result of glowing eyes and, with addition of some powdered incense, smoke rising through the hats and emanating through all the apertures. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.
The horns and the hat all detach.
Back to a domestic scene with this statue of a hunter complete with bow and arrow and slain animal over his back. He's standing between palm trees which are being climbed by two villagers with jugs over their arms. Maybe they're collecting fruit or honey?
Down below, on the ground, a woman is holding a large bottle while a man is lying prone, passed out from too much liquor yet still holding his bottle.