The Significance of Veils for Movement with Presence

Ruth St. Denis, the modern dancer, once said: ‘We should realize in a vivid and revolutionary sense that we are not in our bodies but our bodies are in us.’ This assertion beautifully articulates the idea that the body is not the limit of one’s self, but only an aspect of it. This potent thought is not a mere abstraction, but one which has the power to expand horizons in dance, offering the possibility for a renewed self-awareness in movement. 

In ancient times, Greek dancers possessed an inner feeling of harmony. They wore long, loose garments with veils that rippled in movement, captured so well in the sculptures and painted vases of the time. 

Veils have been in human culture since antiquity, playing a major part in women’s attire. Till today, the veil is worn diversely, whether traditionally draped as a sari or wrapped into a kimono, or adorning the Western and Eastern bride alike. The veil signifies both a piece of cloth and the concept of covering oneself. Garments could also be seen, in a broader sense, as a veil.

What we wear influences the way we move, how we feel about ourselves, and the way we relate to the people around us. Wearing long garments or draped veils brings about a certain sense of presence and more substance to one’s expression, compared to restrictive clothing which accentuates the lines of the physical body. Bringing the veil back into the dance costume – as both cloth and thought – would help develop a new movement awareness, winning back an essential dimension to dance which today is increasingly being left out.

Symbol for protection of the sacred

The veil signifies protection of that which is sacred, too holy to behold. In ancient times, the Mysteries of initiation were strictly concealed from the common people and the betrayal of the secrets to those who were unprepared incurred severe punishment. The well-known story of the Greek dramatist Aeschylus tells of his prosecution for having revealed part of the Mysteries on stage.

Temples made use of veils to separate the inner chambers from the outer, marking a clear distinction between public spaces and those in which only priests may enter. 

In philosophical literature, the statue of the goddess Isis bore the inscription: “I am all that has been and is and shall be; and no mortal has ever lifted my mantle.” (On Isis and Osiris, Plutarch). The sacred is pictured as the divine feminine and spirit of nature, and her words point to the existence of an everlasting world hidden from the world of human beings. It was the secrets of this higher reality that the initiates guarded.

Symbol of status and virtue

Women seem to have carried the sacred in them more, while men seemed to have more affinity for earthly affairs. They were revered when their powers were recognised, but they were also mistreated when their place on the earth was misunderstood. The head covering and long garments became society’s tool for the subordination and categorisation of women. 

The ‘worldly veil’ became a status symbol, separating respectable women (who were expected to be modest), from the rest. Both were dominated and repressed, fully supported by a law and religion conditioned for a patriarchal society. 

Dancing veils and self-awareness

The veil separates two worlds: one of spiritual and the other of matter. In The Birth of Venus, a painting by Botticelli, the goddess is depicted as floating naked on a shell, blown by two flying figures towards a forest shore where maidens await to receive and cover her in a cloak. It shows the passing over of Venus from the one world to the other. She was born naked there and must now cover herself here. The ‘split of worlds’ artistically depicts an experience of human beings as well as spiritual beings, involving a mysterious adjustment for those who knew both sides.

At a time when religion and dance were inextricably linked, the temple dancers of ancient greece carried out movements as part of a sacred ritual, in a mood of reverence and deep inner connection to their gods. Through the art remaining from those times, we see costumes that are rippling and flowing, much like water, as moving veils catch the air. 

When we wear long garments that offer a feeling of spaciousness and extension, we come to know ourselves as beings with presence.

In the early days of modern dance, Isadora Duncan and others sought to recreate that experience of movement which the ancient dancers had known so well. To achieve this, they draped themselves with veils and flowing garments, while seeking for more natural movements, emerging from an inner soul life. It was a time of reimagining the dance, a divergence from ballet, which had already taken centre stage in Europe. These dancers’ choice of materials and styles for costume allowed for an unfolding of a new movement awareness.

What we wear informs our feelings and artistic expression. The sari, worn by classical Indian dancers, and donned by Ruth St. Denis for some of her modern dances, is a traditional Indian dress worn typically at the time of marriage. The design has a straightening effect on one’s sense of self. There arises a sense of dignity, of tallness, uprightness, and elegance. For new mothers, this reinforces a sense of responsibility. For dancers, it offers a structured and graceful form perfect for stylized poses, mime and expressive storytelling.

The kimono is made up of panels stitched together, rather than draped, and the belt distinguishes the upper and lower halves of the body. Although the kimono offers a different experience to the wearer than the sari does, both garments inspire similar feelings of dignity and grace.

When we wear long garments that offer a feeling of spaciousness and extension, we come to know ourselves as beings with presence. Covering the length of one’s body, one has the feeling of being enveloped by a sheath, similar to living inside one’s home.

The veil lifted and discarded

At the start of scientific breakthroughs in the natural world, there was an enthusiastic notion: Isis has been unveiled. Nature’s secrets were being uncovered; new experiences were had in the spheres of Art and Theosophy. The question arises: is not the nature of our inquiry a determining factor on the conclusions we draw? We may have discovered certain facts about nature – but this is not to say that, from Her point of view, we have ‘unveiled’ her. Isis could very well still affirm that ‘no mortal has lifted her veil’, even today. Or, more precisely, that not all have done so.

In what we see today in art and culture, we might believe that the veil has been lifted and cast aside. The excessive infatuation with the lines of the physical body in bare physical space has so pervaded our modern awareness of movement that the realm to which flowing veils and garments once pointed to has become unfamiliar and alien territory. 

Without veiling, one’s movement inevitably falls into the angular, mechanical and pumping language, drawn from bone, muscle, limited geometrical space and purely physical laws. Movement that prods at the still and voiceless air has replaced the one which through a layered sheath, extends itself into a realm of life. Ebbing and flowing, billowing, it invisibly swirls and crackles all around us, in us, through us. 

The all-embracing veil

A shift in movement awareness happens through a shift in self-awareness. The veil keeps the life-flow from fading into physical space by directing and extending it outwards into an infinite, living space. 

A new art of movement, Eurythmy, was developing alongside modern dance in the early twentieth century. Founded by the spiritual philosopher and scientist, Dr. Rudolf Steiner, it arose as a gift of Anthroposophy (‘wisdom of the human being’), as the renewal of dance. Eurythmy takes as its source of movement speech and song, with their innately sculptural and living qualities. With a costume of loose silk and a draped, thin veil, the eurythmist shapes the air, her floating veil catching and revealing movements which arise from the ‘deep human-creative’.

While the veil of the past was needed to protect the spiritual mysteries from the unprepared, the veil now protects us from the declining influence of the purely physical which seeks to strip and empty us out. If, like the ancient Greek dancers we invite the embracing wings of the gods and goddesses which ray out behind us, we may well discover a new and larger self which is being forgotten with the discarding of the veil.

‘Dancing to reconnect’ – article by an eurythmist

I recently wrote an article for Niroi’s website entitled ‘Dancing to Reconnect: what the ancient Greeks knew about the art.’

From my background as an eurythmist, I have been deeply moved by the fruits of ancient Greek culture, its art and values of beauty and truth. I’ve learned to appreciate its philosophy, dance, architecture and myths. So, in this article I take a look at the origins of dance as a spiritual-religious practice, one that connects the human being to a larger reality beyond this world, something the Ancient Greeks understood and expressed so well!

Niroi is an organization worth checking out, they promote Greek cultural ideals through a variety of activities.

Read the full article on their site: https://www.niroi.org/post/dancing-to-re-connect-what-ancient-greeks-knew-about-the-art

Try Watercolours: the perfect hobby (4 benefits)

Hobbies are an important aspect of life, in fact, an essential part of life. It’s easy to get so involved with work, drawn into social media feeds and busy with chores that we forget to do the things that are just for us. Things that make us light-hearted, joyful, calm and also heal and nurture us. Hobbies are a form of self-care, because we can express ourselves, unwind, slow down and return to our work refreshed and more focussed.

Below are four benefits of watercolours as a hobby, which I have come to appreciate over the many years of painting and sketching with them.

Portable Paint Sets (pocket-sized) for sketching on the Beach

1) It isn’t Time-Consuming (fits easily into your day)

It doesn’t take long to practice or learn a hobby like watercolours. It takes less time and is easier to learn the basics, than, say a sport or learning a musical instrument.

It doesn’t have to take more than a five-minute sketch to add a spark to your day. Watercolours dry fast, especially when using less water such as the wet-on-dry method. They dry much faster than thick oils or saturated poster paints.

Set anywhere between 5 minutes to 1 hour daily to feel the immediate benefits. Use chunks of time during holidays, weekends or spare hours to indulge yourself and dive deeper. Tip: If you feel you have no time at all, try to notice what you spend time on throughout your waking hours and analyze for yourself: could you use the early mornings for this hobby? Could you cut down on social media or reading the newspaper? Where can you carve out just a little space and time for yourself?

2) A Special Form of Self-Care (learn skills & connect with yourself)

I have found watercolours to be the best way to unwind and relax. There is something about the delicacy of water and light, and the softness of the pure, brilliant hues that really nurture me through my senses. Especially with the more light, pastel shades that glow on the page. It’s extremely satisfying to paint with the medium.

It isn’t surprising then, with all these nurturing qualities, that watercolours are also used in Art Therapy, a form of non-verbal therapy that has been very effective in dealing with a spectrum of issues, sometimes in conjunction with traditional counselling and/or a medical doctor. The healing aspect of watercolours is helpful for everyone, for example to release stress, tackle emotions like grief or anger, or explore something confusing that happened that day. It acts naturally as a form of self-healing by just practicing it. There’s also the art journal or art diary, and I would recommend looking into that practice if you wish to take this hobby to a more personal level.

3) Portability Factor (perfect when you’re on the move)

I like to carry my watercolour sketchbooks with me wherever I go, along with a portable paint set. That way, whenever I get the time and inclination to paint, it’s easily and quickly accessible. These can be pocket-sized or larger, to fit in your handbag or backpack.

Watercolours are very portable, suitable for any space whether it’s your office, a cafe, a park, or out in the countryside to paint landscapes.

4) Affordability of Materials (less pressure in making a start)

Watercolours are an affordable hobby. If you want to set yourself up with the basic materials, all that you will need to start are: student-grade paint-set; some flat and pointed brushes; hot-pressed or cold-pressed paper; a bound sketchbook (available in various sizes); a palette or set of shallow bowls; a rag cloth and/or paper towels for drying brushes and mopping up paint; and a container or two for water.

To paint on the go or out of doors, all you need is a travel paint set with one brush and a built-in palette; a watercolour sketchbook; rag cloth and small water container with lid.

I have developed my skills quite a bit over the years by just setting aside a little time in my day or week, learning through weekly classes and one-off workshops, as well as through books, blog posts, videos, that I’ve taken on the side.

It is a really worthwhile hobby and I hope you will consider trying out watercolours for yourself and see where it takes you. Let me know how it goes in the comments below or via the contact form!

Art Experience: Indian Ceramics Triennale at JKK, Jaipur

I traveled with my husband Flavius Pisapia to the Indian Ceramics Triennale 2018. He was part of a group installation project titled Woven Together, with 42 other artists.

We made it to the opening on the 31st of August, right after checking into our accommodation. The Jawahar Kala Kendra building felt very welcoming, especially the Amphitheatre which was formed in a large round, open to the night sky.

The Exhibition: contemporary design in ceramics

With every new artwork I perceived, my mind was being opened. It’s not surprising that the tagline on the programme reads: ‘Breaking Ground 2018’. Here, the ceramic works have risen from the categorisation Craft to the status of Contemporary Art; that is the idea and attitude towards ceramics that the Triennale aims to inculcate. It is apparent to the viewer, as they engage with the impressive, curious and odd art pieces, that there is an underlying philosophy and a thought process, an essential element in the realm of art.

There were two artists’ work I was particularly grabbed by that evening: one was Nidhi Jalan’s “Aswattha” – a large work of miniature, intricately woven animal-like figures of a rainbow of colours, placed all over a large tree that is also delicately done with thin branches and roots.

“Aswattha is inspired by a verse in the Bhagavad Gita, which refers to the inverted tree…Nidhi Jalans work, which is based on interwoven cultures, the ease and unease of the transplant, and the fertile ground that makes for the birth of the unusual and fantastical life forms.”

On page 58 of the brochure: Nidhi Jalan

The other work was the amazing display of tiny shadows emanating from little natural forms that seemed like acorns, leaves and stones. The ceramic seeds, together with the lighting from below, were positioned on the wall in such a way as to create that shadow effect of a forest. It seemed as if the tiny tree-shaped shadows arose as an ‘imagination’, hovering above the physical seeds.

“Juxtaposed against the Windows is a forest of shadows, reminiscent of Jaipur block printing, created by form, material and the play of light and shadow. … speaks of the temporality and transience, of life and nature.”

On page 54 of brochure: Madhvi Subrahmanian

The title read, Forest of Shadows and seemed to attract quite a few viewers who were also taking many photos, trying to find the best angle with the shadows as well as the ‘Windows’ artwork on the left.

Symposium session: Clay and Community

We caught the first session of the Symposium Setting the Ground, that ran over two days in the morning and afternoon sessions. Session 1 was called Clay and Community, seen from three speaker’s perspectives according to their area of work.

“Art and society have always overlapped, both informing and reacting to the other. Ceramics as a material is rich with history and laden with metaphor.”

Introduction on page 109 of the brochure.

What I took away from the symposium, being completely new to the ceramic as well as the pottery world, can be summarised very briefly below. The talks awakened much interest in me for the creation of art through clay and working with the hands. It is literally the most down-to-earth form of artistic expression.

  • How does one appreciate artists who may be far out of reach from galleries or studios (artists working in villages, for example)
  • Could we begin to see so-called craftsmen or artisans as Artists with a capital A, in their own right?
  • What would it be like to bring all manner of sculptors, ceramicists, potters, and varying styles under one roof to celebrate all: inclusively, universally and without discrimination?
  • The movement our hands make when moulding, shaping and rolling clay is uniquely human; animals’ hands/paws cannot do it. Working with clay is something intrinsically human and connects with the development of our mind.
  • From dust to dust: we connect to clay deeply because we are made of the earth as well.

Environmentally friendly clay products

There are creative initiatives coming up in India that create innovative clay products in an effort to become more environmentally friendly.

For the Indian context it is a continuing journey to survive and thrive with clay traditions and annual festivals in the 21st century.

The symposium, Setting the Ground, provided potent ideas and opened my eyes to issues faced by Artists across the spectrum, in various contexts.

Visit www.indianceramicstriennale.com for more information.

Art Gallery visit: Samanvai’s Tree of Plenty exhibition

Our next stop was a visit to the Samanvai Art Gallery, in another part of town.

The three rooms showcased thought-provoking and diverse artworks based on the theme: “The Tree of Plenty”, showcasing 21 artists from all over India. I think the quote from participating artist Sangeeta Batra encapsulates it well and poetically:

“There’s always plenty.

Some stand alone.

Some lean on each other.

Some compete with one another.

Some are witnessed, some are not.

Yet, we all grow. In all of this movement and

stillness, there is abundance as long as we stay

open. Open to light, open to possibility and to each

other. We are one texture, many forms.

We are the tree of plenty.

May we stay awake, give, receive, grow and love

with abundance at our roots and benevolence on

our branches. All the pieces of my collection are

open forms. Open to you, your thoughts and your

feelings. May you receive them the same way.

May the interaction be fruitful.”

participating artist Sangeeta Batra

Two artworks which stood out for me particularly were the Eternal Wave and Glimpses of the Tree Journey. Both these works have the element of metamorphosis, of something transforming, morphing, much like a story – with beginning, middle and ending.

The first artwork, by Veena Singh, is made in stoneware coloured clay. Beautifully she writes in her statement about the work,

“Through my work I want to explore and emphasise this inherent and underlying harmony between nature, human beings and trees. We are a part of this universal whole…a wave that has risen in the sea of creation, …”

Veena Singh

In this piece, the energy of the sea-wave is communicated both in the textured colour of the clay as well as the dynamic, rumpled edges and the curls, swirls and folds worked into the shape of the clay. Into this scroll-like “canvas” arise faces – a half face that merges into the background, the middle face well-formed and contoured in more detail and emerging further out from the relief. This middle face, as in the middle of a person’s life, is the most defined and formed. The two on either side are in a state of becoming and dissolving, like the growing child or the ageing elder.

The artist has ended her statement with: “…a brief existence destined to merge into the elements of eternity.”

Eternal Wave

The word ‘eternity’ does conjure up, visually, the never-ending horizon, which is captured in the elongated shape and outline in Eternal Wave.

Glimpses of the Tree Journey, has a more self-contained picture of a developmental phase. Based on the wall-hanging format, it has three tiles stitched together in a rectangular frame. The subtitle reads: Glimpses of Growth, Bloom & Prosperity.

Here, the artist Manasvi Mhatre expresses her interest in the process of the tree’s growth; something we may not usually think about as we are so taken up with its outer beauty:

“When we think of beauty in nature, we most immediately think of things that dazzle the senses… but we often miss the beauty of its journey from early stage…till prosperity.”

Manasvi Mhatre

Looking for beauty not only in what the senses present to us, but also in what is hidden – the phases of growth and transformation the tree undergoes from seed, sprout, flowering, and so on until it is fully developed into a large, complex and beautiful form.

Group Exhibition: Woven Together (Installation)

The collaborative art project conceptualised by Ruby Jhunjhunwala and created by original works from 42 artists around the world has an impressive presence and can be physically experienced from inside by walking inside it.

Connected ceramic tiles form a whole network: fabric-like, fusing together different voices and styles of each individual artist. When I beheld it, I felt: “the individual harmonises with community.” Each hung panel of hand-sized tiles carries its own message and story, yet merges seamlessly into the entirety of the work. It looked like a large stylized tree.

The trip was like a big bouquet of colourful, artistic and scenic experiences. I think my senses were overloaded with all the sight-seeing and art viewing we did. By writing about it, I feel I have processed all my experiences and drawn focus to those special moments that had something to teach or show me.

Writing Copy for Artist Website

Website copy is an important piece of written work. It communicates and potentially sells a product or service, and makes and promotes a brand. I worked with my husband on his brand new artist website: writing his bio, art descriptions, web page copy, news summaries and more.

As an artist, it has become so important to represent yourself and your work through your website. It works not only as a portfolio but also reaches out to your audience who would like to get a hold of your work or ask for commissions. The artist bio and statement are important pieces, to be displayed on the website as well as online profiles and social media accounts.

FLAVIUS VALONE PISAPIA

Biography

There were some key areas I covered in Pisapia’s bio: where he was born, his early influences, family, art education and art inspiration and influences. It takes a deeper look into how he emerged as an artist as well as the evolution of his art into organic, pure sculptural form.

The biography tells a story; of the artist from the perspective of his outer life as well as his developing thought process, inner experience and findings.

Would you like to learn more about Flavius Pisapia? Read his bio here.