Exhibitions

Rasa Yatra – A pilgrimage into the heart of India – Param Tomanec [April 2013 – April 2014]

rasa4I am delighted to present Param Tomanec’s RASA YATRA: Pilgrimage into the Heart of India as MOSA’s first temporary exhibit. Param Tomanec is a young, talented photographer and filmmaker. Our show is highlighting some of his photography and his film with the same title. Through his work we can discover the vibrant spiritual culture that endures in India and some of the major challenges it faces as a result of a fast-paced modernization. The show includes several categories: Landscapes, Architecture, Portraits, Deities, and Festivals. It truly is a pilgrimage, and the viewers can experience some of the emotions and feelings one has when one visits such places in India. I have been working with Param for several years, and I am very happy that finally his wonderful work can be seen and appreciated by the public. We are fortunate to have the contributions of several distinguished writers for the catalogue: Sushma K. Bahl, Joshua M. Greene and Silke Lange. I really hope that this show will be able to travel to other museums and cultural centers in Europe to bring an experience of pilgrimage in India to a large number of people. Written by: Martin Gurvich, Director of MOSA

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Silke Lange

Silke Lange

When Param Tomanec invited me to write about his photography for the Museum of Sacred Art catalog, I was delighted to hear that his photographs and film were to be shown in a solo exhibition focusing on the tradition and historical significance of pilgrimage in India. Being familiar for a number of years with Param’s visual interpretations of India – its culture, landscapes, and people – I felt that the Museum of Sacred Art in Belgium is one of the most suitable places for his work to be celebrated. Param’s photographs go beyond the mere representation of a place. They reflect and celebrate in themselves what, for him, is a way of life to which he is completely devoted. Writing about Param’s photography without reference to his remarkable journey through life seems impossible for me. Born in 1977 in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), he grew up in a cultural and political environment very different from the one he has adopted. His experiences during his monastic life and in his spiritual practices are continually depicted in his still and moving images. To a large extent, his photographs of India serve as metaphors for places of hope and liberation found in his new world. At first glance, the richness of the colors included in Rasa Yatra the images is what is most striking, making the depicted scenes look distinctively for me of another world’ or ‘somewhat dreamlike’. On closer consideration, it seems as though the spiritual atmospheres of the locations captured by Param have enhanced the appealing aesthetic he created. Look at the image “Gauri Kund Yatra”. The colors, shapes, and textures of the place are emphasized through a carefully considered photographic approach that attempts to show the history of this place and traces of natural phenomena. The combination of movement, color and light has created a visual reflection of the ecstatic, spiritual experience lived out by pilgrims. In addition to inviting the viewer to imagine the experience of pilgrimage, Param shares some profoundly personal moments by his image making. “Dwaraka Yatra”, for example, shows the temple of Krishna, which, according to Param, “has a special place in my heart.” The temple was built in the sixth century on the shore of the Arabian Sea in the westernmost part of India, Gujarat. For me, in “Dwaraka Yatra”, Param captured the temple in a light as if it were the center stage of a theatre, before a performance begins. Contemplating Param’s photography of India, I get the sense of viewing the country through a lens that reveals its culture and traditions, its ancient history and holy places, and the people who have embraced these traditions and followed a spiritual path through their lives. Param’s images convey his respect for the India he explored and the people he encountered. However, perusing some of his written descriptions of the places visited and experiences gained on his journeys, another picture emerges. In these descriptions he shares his concerns about the impact of certain developments on the immediate environment of some of the sacred places he photographed. Describing the early morning view of Badrinath Valley, for example, Param says that “fifty years ago there were no cement buildings. Most of the landscape invasion took place in the early 1980s.” He then looks at other details of the area, namely, Gangotri Yatra. The photograph shows three majestic Gangotri peaks in a place of pilgrimage that is known for worship of the river Ganga. Param says that inexperienced travelers and business interests have affected this area. I am an ardent believer in the persuasive potential of photography as a catalyst for change, in addition to its representing the natural and spiritual beauty of a place. I hope that viewers of Param’s exhibition are opened up to a world of experiences beyond mere technological knowledge. Photography has the potential to enable people to grow, to understand themselves and others, and it supports the development of new ways of seeing through understanding connections with culture and society by writing about Param’s work and his future ventures employing his mesmerizing photographic style to convey his concerns. Hopefully he will be able to actively contribute to the initiative of raising awareness of current developments in the spiritual heart of India and to protect its environment from destructions driven by values very different from the ones held by the communities themselves.   The author’s publications include “Fluid networks and emergent learning: an interdisciplinary case study in Mutamorphosis” (forthcoming 2013) and “Learning through Creative Conversations”, in the international anthology Teaching Creativity – Creativity in Teaching (ed. C. Nygaard et al., LIBRI Publishing, Oxfordshire, 2010).
Sushma K. Bahl Sushma K. Bahl A panorama of ethereal images with an innate spirituality that evokes a sublime, blissful experience engages you as you encounter Param Tomanec’s Rasa Yatra photographs. With their focus on eternity, rather than a momentary reality, his photos offer you an inner journey, a pilgrimage beyond the obvious and the physical or bodily toward the meditative, spiritual, and blissful: sat-chit-ananda. The devotional iconography that is replayed visually by this artist suggests in-depth meditation, study, and research, which the artist confirms preceded his experimentation. About fifty carefully framed and digitally shot photos and a film in the collection feature some amazing portraits of people, pilgrims, and priests beside pristine sites, in engaging situations, or behind the scenes. Various primeval landscapes, sacred mountains, incessant waterfalls, and flowing holy rivers (some illuminated in moonlight or star light), live performances, temples, celebrations, and festivities that connect people with nature all figure in his work. He gave up a promising commercial career in films to live a monastic life and embark on a spiritual journey of self-discovery. The confluence of cultures that Param has encountered across Africa, Asia, and Europe is reflected in his current repertoire, with its meditative leanings and philosophical layering. Param’s empathy for the natural environment, cleaner air, and mother Earth figures prominently in his imagery. The beauty and bounty of nature resonate through his photo montage, which presents the world as a pilgrimage, where people come and go. But the earth and the environment, his work seems to urge, must be sustained for future generations. The characters and visuals he presents, remarkable for their spontaneity and soulful silence, and the artist’s emotional rapport with his subjects and various situations, penetrate the viewer’s innate feelings, beyond what the naked eye can see. The artist uses fairly complex cinematographic neutral lights and density filtration to explore the relationship between moving and still images. His visuals evoke physical beauty and the soul of the image. Param tells me he spends hours on location, looking and waiting, till his eyes and mind meet with that of the subject. And they talk, trying to understand each other, before the photography really happens. What he captures then is not just the physical persona but sensitively photographed portraits, landscapes, mind-frames, scenes, and celebrations that transcend the obvious. The subject is figured holistically, with subtlety, soul, and character in place. A multi layered mythology and intricately entwined narratives, featuring people and iconic landmarks, inundate Param’s art-scape. Aesthetically rendered in amazing compositions and palettes, his photos call for nurturing nature and preserving the environment. His work invites you to meditate and penetrate deep within and beyond the surface, to soak in the image and celebrate life, while also doing some introspection. Param’s Rasa Yatra takes one on a pilgrimage into the heart of spiritual India, a metaphor for sat-chit-ananda.     Author of 5000 Years of Indian Art, and Former Head, Arts and Culture, India for the British Council, Sushma K. Bahl, based in Delhi, is an independent arts adviser and curator of cultural projects.
joshua-greene Joshua M. Greene Meditating on the photography of Param Tomanec reminds me that biases often turn out to be founded on flimsy assumptions. Apart from his mastery of its tools and conventions, Tomanec brings to the art of photography an ability to discover consciousness operating below what the eye sees and an artist’s skill at conveying its subtle presence to viewers. In India’s bhakti or devotional tradition, perception of consciousness—awareness of something transcendent lying just beneath the appearance of things—is called darshan or “vision of truth.” That vision is the purpose of pilgrimage, and contemplating Tomanec’s work evokes for me emotions I have known journeying to holy places in India. Darshan differs from pointillism’s ability to convince the eye it sees a solid where there are only dots. Darshan evokes hidden dimensions existing past the eye’s visual range. The word applies to what visitors experience when looking at temple deities. To “have darshan” of the deity at a place of pilgrimage is to move beyond ordinary seeing into subtle dimensions where the soul communes with the Divine. As a young man in the 1970s, I made my first pilgrimage to Vrindavan—one of the subjects in this exhibition—and found myself displaced by what I saw: humans and animals at peace with each other, sharing food and space; temples unchanged since the Middle Ages, some towering and magnificent, others no bigger than a hole large enough for an attendant, small deities, and the accoutrements of worship; forests and rivers that have withstood the ravages of centuries; and human beings like me but completely unlike me, men and women and children alive with faith, casual with the mysteries of the universe. Sociologist Emile Durkheim described such displacement as “anomie,” the sensation of being at loose-ends or mismatched with the surrounding environment. Anomie is what happens when you cannot make sense of your experiences, when what was previous comfortable reveals itself as something more, different, and the only way to react is to leave behind whatever notions you had of yourself and to enter abstract realms, like the characters in Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot.” Let me give you some practical examples of how that sensation occurs for me as I meditate on Tomanec’s work. Here are photographs that invite introspection of a particular kind: how much of ourselves, they oblige us to ask, have we sacrificed to live the life we have? Tomanec reminds us that self-questioning can happen before a photograph as readily as on a pilgrimage, provided the photographer is a rasik, the Sanskrit term for someone attuned to the nuances of spiritual emotion. The challenges for a rasik photographer such as Tomanec are twofold: first, to capture an image that engages the physical eye; second, to capture the underlying rasa of that image, its emotion of divine communion. Tomanec succeeds on both counts. In his work we are drawn first to what is visually and esthetically recognizable: nimbus clouds challenging immovable mountains, warm faces staring out from under exotic markings, children huddled beneath a driving rain of flower petals. Look again, and Tomanec takes us deeper—away from the literal observation to a rasik or emotive level. It is on that level that a photographic image, like a pilgrimage, can stimulate awareness of our place in the greater mystery of creation. On the rasik or spiritually evocative level, things are symbolic in a way that differs from the everyday sense of symbols. Usually, a symbol represents something other than itself. A wedding ring symbolizes the union of two people. The small, concrete piece of jewelry represents a larger abstract concept. The ring is less than the idea it represents since the marriage does not dissolve if the ring is lost or stolen. India’s rasik or devotional philosophy goes past this secular sense of symbolism to say something quite different about objects and their meaning. From the rasik point of view, the creation around us not only symbolizes the greater concept of God but is not different from God. Nature is the Virata Rupa, the Universal Form, the Divine manifest as trees and rivers, rocks and waterfalls—not symbolic of God, but God present as creation in forms our limited senses can perceive. Devotional vision reveals that nothing is different from God. Care must be exercised in distinguishing between the monistic notion that “everything is God” (called in Sanskrit advaita philosophy) and the bhakti philosophy that “nothing is different from God” (bheda-bheda). As a devotional photographer, Tomanec avoids the portrayal of divinity as an amorphous energy or abstraction of color. His decisions would have been different had that been his intention. Instead, he shows us Divinity as personal, playful and beautiful. Deities are presented as they are in temples, honored with the integrity of their individuality and unique personhood. He shows us sadhus and pilgrims warm with human emotion, eyes wide open, acknowledging us, seeing us as much as we see them. The bhakti view that “nothing is different from God” acknowledges God’s presence in all things and within all life, without need of subsuming that life into His own being. We as observers have an assignment when viewing such works. How well we can perceive divinity in these photographs depends on our how seriously we are committed to our spiritual practice. Neophytes appreciate phenomena on a literal level: “Here is a photograph of a tree.” More advanced meditators appreciate an object’s deeper symbolic meaning: “Here is a photograph of a tree and in this tree body lives an eternal soul,” or “This tree is a hair on the body of God’s Universal Form.” Advanced practitioners see their Beloved before them—Krishna, Govinda, Gopal are names often associated with personal divinity in India. For them, the response to inspired photography such as Tomanec’s becomes “Here is not a photograph, but my beloved Krishna in His deity form, in His incarnation as Mother Ganges and in His loving devotees.” On that rasik plane of pure perception everything becomes a stimulus for love of God, whether is it en pleine air, on a canvas or in a photograph. As you contemplate this exhibit, take time to breathe before each image. Meditate on each one, not as an object separate and apart from yourself but as a part of you, as an evocation of a vision you once had but which has been subsumed beneath the temporary ephemera of life in the material world. Let the image’s deeper dimensions penetrate your heart, and watch what happens.   Joshua M. Greene is Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at Hofstra University in New York. He is author of Art as Yoga (BBT Sweden, forthcoming), editor of Gods in Print: Masterpieces of India’s Mythological Art (Mandala Publishing), and author of the best-selling biography Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison (John Wiley & Sons). www.atma.org
ptportraitTurning away from a promising career in the commercial film and advertisement industries, at eighteen years of age Param embarked on a journey of rediscovery. This call to adventure led him to a joining a spiritual yoga ashram of Krishna tradition, north of London in 1997. There he spent eight years practising meditation, studying philosophy and serving the community. While based in the monastic community, Param worked on photographic documentaries in eastern Africa, Asia, and Europe. Since 2005 he is living in Oxford, UK. He graduated from the University of Westminster at the school of Media, Arts & Design in Photography in 2009. His studies explored the relationship between moving and still image. The love affair with experimental cinema took him to Godfrey Reggio, the director of the groundbreaking QATSI trilogy and to Indian art-filmmaker Aribam Shyam Sharma. Param's creativity is largely inspired by Eastern traditions with filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky, Akira Kurosawa and Ron Fricke bringing influences into his work. Param is shaping a scenario for his first feature motion picture project entitledKrida (krida is Sanskrit for 'to play', 'pastime', or 'spontaneous adventure' - encopassing both, human and divine). He has been proposed by curator Martin Gurvich to direct a new documentary focusing on the lives of living visual artists in India. In 2009 he has been appointed as Artist-in-Residence at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, a Recognised Independent Centre of the University of Oxford. Param's still and moving pictures are used at Universities across the world for courses on Indian life, culture and art. He contributes to BBC Online archive and photo archive to Sri Caitanya Prema Sansthan, India. Since a young age, Param has been a devout vegetarian. FILMOGRAPHY KRIDA (working title) Photography research stage, funds and distribution letter-of-intent seeking. RASA YATRA (2012) 50 mins, completed. (India, UK)   EXHIBITIONS 2011-2013 June 2013September 2013, a major solo exhibition curated by the Museum of Sacred Art at the Castle Radhadesh, Durbuy, Belgium. 1st — 25th September, solo exhibition at Meller Merceux Gallery, Oxford. 1 — 11th February, Paintings of Bharti Dayal from Living Traditions in Indian Art book project, Nehru Centre, London. 3th February — 5th March, Govinda Darshan: a group exhibition with photographers Robyn Beeche and Abhinava Goswami, and other international graphic artists at Jaipur Temple Palace, Rajasthan, INDIA as part of the Ananda Mahotsava cultural festival.   RASA YATRA SCREENINGS: 20th October, 2012, Kino Svetozor, Prague 15th October, 2012, Official European Premiere 6:30PM, Kino Svetozor, 10th Prague Indian Film Festival, Czech Republic. 22nd May, 2012 Audimax 2 Theatre, A scholarly viewing at Hamburg University. 21st March, 2012 - Gulmohar Hall at Habitat World Centre, Delhi, India. 28th January, 2012 - 4th Jaipur International Film Festival, India. 4th January, 2012 - World Sanskrit Conference at Indira Gandhi National Centre for Art, Delhi, India. 17th December, 2011 - 7pm - Vrindavana Premiere organised by Sri Caitanya Prema Sansthan in collaboration with Indian Council for Philosophical Research. 28th October, 2011 - CASS Business School, Diwali Festival Film Screening, London, UK. 21st — 22nd August, 2011 - Janmashtami Festival, Radha Krishna Temple, Watford, London, UK. 27th August, 2011 - Croome Court (National Trust Heritage), Festival of Indian Art & Culture, Worchester, UK. 16th April, 2011 - A scholarly film preview at Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions, Oxford University. (work in progress) 2009 — 2010 Biographica - An international travelling exhibition of University of Westminster. (work in progress) PUBLICATIONS Rasamandala Das, The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Hinduism: Anness Publishing, April, 2012. (photography) Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Volumes II and III, in "Puja and Darshana" and "Gaudiya Vaishnava Theology and Philosophy", by Kenneth R. Valpey, 2011. (photography) Martin Gurvich and Tryna Lyons, Living Traditions in Indian Art, Museum of Sacred Art in association with Mapin Publishing, 2010. (graphics concept, design and photography) Jessica Frazier, Reality, Religion, and Passion: Lexington Books, 2009. (cover jacket photograph) Kenneth R. Valpey, Attending Krishna's Image: Routlege, 2006. (photography and graphics) Forthcoming: Changing World Religion Map - a new Geography book, photography illustration in collaboration with Prof. Martin Haigh. Offering of the Heart, A Photographic Essay Documenting the Hindu Ritual ofPuja in collaboration with Prof. Graham M. Schweig.
Param Tomanec is a young, talented photographer and filmmaker. Our show is highlighting some of his photography and his film with the same title. Through his work we can discover the vibrant spiritual culture that endures in India and some of the major challenges it faces as a result of a fast-paced modernization. The show includes several categories: Landscapes, Architecture, Portraits, Deities, and Festivals. It is truly a pilgrimage, and the viewers can experience some of the emotions and feelings one has when one visits such places in India. I have been working with Param Tomanec for several years, and I am very happy that finally his wonderful work can be seen and appreciated by the public.

EXHIBIT CREDITS

Catalog texts: Sushma K. Bahl, Joshua M. Greene, Silke Lange Catalog Design: Phelelani Mdabe Catalog Editor: Todd Dewitt Exhibit Layout: Martin Gurvich Promotion: Stefan Goossens Media: Claire Domoulein
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