A recent email about a series of Indian artists painting The Last Supper took me back to a few years ago when Vivek Vilasini’s dramatic photograph of Last Supper with 13 Kathakali dancers sitting at a table with the Kerala sadya on banana leaves drew admiration and smiles and gentle satirical banter at the India Art Fair in 2012. Vilasini did one more after that -he created a masterpiece with 13 burqa clad women and called it Last Supper -Gaza. It became a world wide comment on the place of the prophet of peace which was caught in the throes of war. I requested Vilasini to send me these two images to go back in time and relish the brilliance of wit and deeper tenets of perception in these two works.
Mind you Vilasini is very much a professional in his own right.Born in Trichur, the Kerala born Vilasini trained as a Marine Radio Officer at the All India Marine College in Kochi, and then obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Kerala University in 1987 before turning to art and studying sculpture from traditional Indian craftspeople.
Social structures and subtle questions
Vilasini’s first study of The Last Supper comes as a centre piece of an examination of social structures, as well as expressions of cultural identity. He asks subtle questions as he places these 13 Kathakali dancers at the table -they seem to be so wrapped in their own inner dialogues, even as he weaves in delicate satirical ironies that influence both cultural and social consciousness . I still remember I stood in front of it and smiled and then fell into deep contemplation thinking about the carpenter’s son whose life and death were a testimony to a Eucharistic table.
Gesture and Poise- Gaza
Vilasini’s Gaza went a step further. Not only did it bring down the hammer at international auctions it became a leitmotif of a litany of issues of global concerns and faith and betrayal.
Gaza for Vilasini was based on the original fifteenth Century composition of da Vinci’s grouping of the apostles in threes (surrounding the central figure of Christ), but he configured it to portray a poignant interrogative , present-day context. By using young women clothed in chadors or burqas, revealing only their expressive eyes; Vilasini subverted the entire scene in terms gender and ideology ; these young veiled women could be sisters, or students , wives or widows , divorced or single but they had shared anxieties.
Vilasini created a masterpiece in gesture and poise, within the poetic irony was fragility and intense emotion.Their dismay and disappointment and discovery of deception , everything pans out into a cinematic calmness as we sense the emotive aura of the sacrament and the panoramic table. Within one frame Vilasini brought forward a host of questions -the futility of political, cultural and religious ideologies and the conflict of wars past and present that runs like a threaded history through our social consciousness.Vilasini proved in an enigmatic and elegant way that Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper must be translated and transported into the present day context of conversations today and be narrated with originality. Merely painting a Last Supper means nothing in terms of intellectual discourse or aesthetic ardour.
It wouldn’t be wrong to state that Vilasini used both Kathakali dancers and the burqa clad women to explore various aspects of identity and tradition, peace and violence, with an eye on presenting the perspective and perception of the fluidity, translation and transmission of images across time, through cultural boundaries and expanding geographies. He was also asking his viewers anytime ,anywhere to reexamine longstanding beliefs and interrelate with ‘the Other’ in a world torn by terrorism and strife.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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