Exploring Visual Arts across Madison
Nov 20, 2013
04:12 PM

Historic and Modern Themes Mix at the Chazen

Historic and Modern Themes Mix at the Chazen

Art undoubtedly offers many benefits, and among them is serving as a means through which to understand a specific place or point in time. That's precisely the case in an exhibition at the Chazen Museum of Art. 

For centuries, women in the Mithila region of northern India have painted elaborately patterned scenes of divinities, icons, lifye cycles and domestic rituals on the walls and floors of their homes. In the 1960s, residents of this area, a longtime religious, intellectual and cultural center, began painting on paper. And today, the painting tradition continues to thrive—and change. 

Mithila Painting: The Evolution of an Art Form, on display through December 1, features more than forty paintings by twenty-eight artists made since 1970. The works show not only the vibrant colors, bold lines and abundance of patterns characteristic of this distinctive style, but also the dramatically diverse range of subject matter artists have folded into the tradition.

Rituals and religion are still represented, such as in “Krishna Subduing the Serpent,” a 1985 painting by Baua Devi. The scene tells the story of villagers who prayed to Krishna to kill a river serpent while the serpent’s wives also prayed to the deity to spare their husband’s life. Krishna solved by problem by choosing neither life nor death but, rather, simply removing the serpent’s venom. Sweeping yellow and black lines represent the giant multi-headed snake, with Krishna standing on top. Stylized flowers provide a backdrop.

Other more traditional themes include marriage, nature and narrative works.

And the newer subjects are broad and quite global in their scope. Artists have taken on powerful aspects of modern society—from politics and war to abortion and disease.

In “Burning Up with HIV/AIDS,” a 2007 painting by the artist Kamlesh, red flames surround two intertwined figures. “AIDS” is written out repeatedly on their torsos and arms, and the word is echoed in red, blue, yellow, green and black in the background.

Two paintings depict the September 11 terrorist attacks, including Leela Devi’s red, black and white work in which two planes fly directly into the sides of the World Trade Center towers. 

Several artists explore women’s roles in society. One painting references women “breaking through the curtain,” while another shows a woman being set on fire by her husband and mother-in-law, a practice that is illegal but that some young women in the region still fear.

The combination of historic and contemporary subject matter is compelling and the chance to see the unique, highly stylized art form of Mithila painting is in and of itself worth a visit to the museum.

Mithila Painting: The Evolution of an Art Form runs through December 1 at the Chazen Museum of Art. For more information, visit chazen.wisc.edu.

Photos, of "The Kohbar Deconstructed" by Pinki Kumari and "Nagkanya—Underwater Snake Maiden" by Rambharos,  courtesy of the Chazen Museum of Art. 

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About This Blog

A perk of being managing editor of Madison Magazine is the opportunity to delve into exciting aspects of the city—and Madison's art scene is one of my favorites. It's dynamic, diverse and always inspiring. Join me here for artist interviews, details on events, exhibition previews, reviews and more.

Find past arts coverage on my former blog.

– Katie Vaughn
Follow Katie on Twitter @katiemv

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