Dandaka is the most recent pillar of Vasantha’s ongoing A Myth of Two Souls series, a modern retelling of the Ramayana.
As a child growing up in France, Yogananthan was enraptured by the Ramayana. The artist’s father would often read to him from the Hindu story, which chronicles Prince Rama’s struggle to rescue his wife, Sita, from the demon King Ravana. Starting life in 2013, A Myth of Two Souls reimagines the ancient poem against the backdrop of contemporary India. Dandaka represents a dramatic crux, depicting the kidnapping of princess Sita.
Unfolding throughout Nepal, India and Sri Lanka – where modernity meets the remnants of ancient civilisation in cities such as Ayodhya, Hampi and Rameswaram – the Ramayana is commemorated by annual festivals, divine shrines and monuments. Travelling to these locations provided an impetus to cast ordinary people as actors, with streets and rural settings transforming into live studio spaces. Here, grandiose historical imagery finds dynamic present-day incarnations, often entirely by chance. ‘The Ravana fighting Jatayu image provided a quandary. In the story, Jatayu, an eagle, tries to save the princess but dies in the conflict. How to visually represent such a sequence? I tried to find eagles, but my efforts were falling short…then one day I met a man with an eagle-stamped shirt. I would never have thought of staging such a picture. It just happened.’
Reflecting the Ramayana’s momentous scale, the images that make up A Myth of Two Souls are set to fill a total of seven separate books, with each one corresponding to a particular chapter of the tale. Where both the process and the material outcome of bookmaking provide rich depth to Yogananthan’s storytelling, the artist’s affinity with print is cemented in the establishment of his own publishing house, Chose Commune. Currently working on the conclusion of the project, Yogananthan currently lives in Paris and travels to South Asia a few times a year, straddling dual ventures of far flung photo taking and meticulous bookmaking.
The Dandaka chapter introduces a unique visual element beyond those that have come to typify the entirety of A Myth of Two Souls. Here, 1970s Ramayana-inspired comic strips are introduced, providing an added layer of commentary and a reminder of how deeply this story is embedded within the cultural zeitgeist. Elsewhere, characteristic illustrations and hand-painted black and white shots return, the latter of which are reinvigorated by a local Indian artist with no corresponding real-life palette for guidance. In pastel tones and dusty hues, Yogananthan captures a world which borders on the otherworldly yet remains forever recognisable. A Myth of Two Souls plays upon this nebulous relationship between fact and fiction, shedding light on how stories of times past can shape the realities we live today.