At home in a new land

Gauri Torgalkar Nadkarni’s art imparts an Indian ethos onto the Australian landscape, writes SALMA SHAH

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Gauri Torgalkar Nadkarni’s art imparts an Indian ethos onto the Australian landscape

The artist with her works

That the Australian landscape is diverse and hauntingly beautiful is well known. And that the inhabitants of the land are often defined by the landscape is an inescapable fact. But when a known landscape – with its unique but familiar shapes, colours and textures – is portrayed through the prism of a different human experience, the ordinary transcends the familiar to become strange and new.

Gauri Torgalkar Nadkarni, a Sydney artist of distinction, offers us her latest work, a cohesive collection of pieces with consistent themes, yet each individual in its impression.

Strange Familiar takes the Australian landscape of public parks and waterways and deifies them to create a spiritual reawakening in the mind of the observer. Much like the original inhabitants of the land, who saw the sacredness of the colours and the purity of places in the Australian landscape, the artist has successfully taken the every day, and through the perspective of rites and rituals of the Indian experience, given new meaning to the places we inhabit.

Presented at the North Sydney Centre recently, Torgalkar Nadkarni’s body of work for Strange Familiar, is confident, compelling and evocative. The colours – intimate and recognisable to Indian eyes – take on new hues and shades when seen within the context of this land.

Prayer Flowers

A familiar Australian landscape – a creek, a suburban park – is depicted through the burnt heat haze of summer, rendering the commonplace scene with an evanescent sheen. In layering these landscapes in patterned gold, she at once evokes the signs of her Indian homeland as well as acknowledges the dot painting techniques of the indigenous artists of her new home.

Whether it’s the striking use of saffron and vermillion to depict the Australian sunrise in Surya Namaskar, the purposeful use of shy rose to show the haze of an Australian summer, or the purity of white to demonstrate garlands of chameli, colours become more than just shades – they become testament to the Indian life, lived spiritually.

A gentle and silent eucalypt, with striking white threads tied around it, depicting the rite of wishing for a long life for a husband, or the diyas on the lily pond, are redolent Indian themes placed within an Australian context.

Jacaranda in Spring

Gold, tantalisingly tied in to the landscape in the shape of willow leaves, is used boldly yet creatively, in the same way that it is used for ornamentation in the lives of Indians. Consequently, through the viewing of the space with this lens in place, the land, once again becomes sacred and divine – yet in a completely an unexpected way.

Torgalkar Nadkarni’s latest work is beautiful and compelling. Each piece makes you want to linger and contemplate the impact of our individual existence on the land.

And when you feel the familiar tug of the comforting ritual in a foreign land, you quickly realise that we have always been home, and this is now our home.

And the strange has now become familiar.

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