What is it that makes Jayasri Burman’s art so special so unique, so incandescent?

I guess the answer is quite simple. She occupies a space she has created and patented on her own.

What defines that space? Her narration of popular mythologies in a secular idiom that’s achingly beautiful : These are truly timeless tales of love and loneliness that she has so eloquently captured. Stories about gods and goddesses, their changing relationships, their charming vahanas, of battles of the heart won and lost, of mysterious landscapes that reach beyond time and timelessness. They are told with a rare dignity and simplicity that almost borders on the naïve, in a language impossible to find today because the idiom of art and poetry, theatre and music has changed so much in our time that it’s no longer possible to narrate mythologies in traditional formats.

Yet this is exactly what Jayasri achieves. Her form derives from our rich art traditions. Her language, from our folk histories. Her stories, from our oral archives of memory. She is a painter who enriches, in her own way, the classical art of storytelling in India.

She delves deep into our collective subconscious and picks up those amazing tales that we have grown up with, heard a hundred times before and then gives them a new meaning a contemporary look, touch, feel. Each narrative comes alive, each story finds a new relevance, each painting takes you where you have never been, into the heart and soul of this country, steeped in tradition, magic and ritual, yet articulated in a way that touches all our lives today.

image1 UNTITLED, Watercolour, Gold Dust, Pen & Ink on Board, 9.5”x8”, 2005

image2 UNTITLED, Watercolour, Gold Dust, Pen & Ink on Board, 10”x7”, 2005


...who, for centuries now, have lovingly handcrafted our gods and goddesses, dressed them and readied them in their exquisite finery for our worship. Actually worship is not really the right word in this context. Love is more appropriate because the relationship we, in Bengal, share with our gods and goddesses is based much more on love than worship. In fact, it often even goes beyond love and encompasses friendship. Yes, we are friends with our gods and goddesses, not in O-You terms but actually in We terms. They belong to us, to our families and they come visiting us at certain times of the year, to share with us our joys and hopes, our griefs and anxieties, our festivities and our celebrations. When we get angry, we fight with them, argue with them, tell them off. That’s the level of intimacy we share with them.

Jayasri captures the nuances of this amazing intimacy through her paintings, creating in the process a new iconography, a contemporary matrix for our faith. Her Durga is not just our old, familiar, stereotypical Durga. She is mother, daughter, defender of the faith, commander of the army of the righteous in the battlefield of life, slayer of the powerful mahishasura. Her Saraswati is not just the pretty lady in white, goddess of knowledge and wisdom. She epitomizes, in Jayasri’s art, all that is beautiful and eternal in this material world where we are constantly seeking to understand the questions that metaphysics throws up at every twist and turn. So is her Lakshmi, venerated not just for the fact that she brings wealth and material well being to her devotees, but because she always accompanies Saraswati to affirm the fact that knowledge and wealth are inseparable pursuits, one and the same journey.

Her Shiva, her Parvati are not remote figures on Mount Kailash. They are our everyday deities who share our hopes and turmoils, our loves and disappointments. There is an immediate connect between them and our lives. You experience almost first hand their love and creativity, their friendship and anger, their intimacy and volatile temperaments that bring them together and yet tear them apart from time to time. The great folk traditions of Indian art weave their way through this tapestry of multiple tales told in her unique way.

The important point to remember, however, is that Jayasri Burman’s art is not just about our past, our traditions, our mythologies. It is also about today. It is this enchanting integration of cultures, language, idiom and narratives that makes her such a remarkable chronicler of our times. Through her paintings, you see the coming together of myth, legend, fable and allegory. You experience their relevance to our times.

Extract from 'A Mythical Universe: Jayasri Burman' Published by Art Alive Gallery

© 2014 Jayasri Burman. All images used on this website are copyright protected.