2018 #39

Dandaka

by Vasantha Yogananthan

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.

Read more (2 min read)

Sita Looking At Jatayu Fighting Ravana Danushkodi Tamil Nadu India

Sita Looking At Jatayu Fighting Ravana Danushkodi Tamil Nadu India

Dandakaranya Nuapada Odisha India

Dandakaranya Nuapada Odisha India

Jatayu 1 Kodiyakarai Tamil Nadu India

Howling To The Moon Ramtek Maharashtra India

Running To The Hut Debrigarh Sanctuary Odisha India

Running To The Hut Debrigarh Sanctuary Odisha India

The Spider Barnawapara Sanctuary Chhattisgarh India from the series Dandaka 2017

The Riders Barnawapara Sanctuary Chhattisgarh India

Ravana Fighting Jatayu Kodiyakarai Tamil Nadu India

Golden Wing Mirror Rameswaram Tamil Nadu India

Bloody Letterbox Rameswaram Tamil Nadu India

Bloody Letterbox Rameswaram Tamil Nadu India

Goudhas Waterfall Nuapada Odisha India

Goudhas Waterfall Nuapada Odisha India

Vasantha Yogananthan

Paris, FR

IMG 6196

Vasantha Yogananthan

Paris, FR

Vasantha Yogananthan’s (b. 1985, France) photographic practice explores the intersection between two Indian literary traditions: modern magical realism and ancient religious texts. Working entirely in analogue, Yogananthan colours each frame with the aid of a local artist, reviving an art of hand-painting film which was used for a generation of Bollywood cinema and in portraits of South Asian aristocracy. In 2014 Vasantha Yogananthan co-founded the publishing house Chose Commune. Bookmaking is an essential component of his projects; the turning of each page unravels a narrative which reaches through time.

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