Being Spirit or Ghost

Shaheen Merali


Everyday part of me dies and everyday part of me starts to live for the very first time. In this perplexing cycle, in which the self generates and re-ignites on a day by day basis, so much is expanded and so much conflates to craft us, as to who and what we are, and that which we will become.

NN Rimzon’s artistic sojourn partly portrays, maybe even explains these sullen movements that combust and slowly fade into relinquished memories, which survive only as stains and specks that guarantee our being and our close realities. Like the ash from the fragmented incense, the aroma still remains, light and sensuously fragrant in the air but its source now a dying flame.

Still but born.

In many of Rimzon’s sculptural works, one often finds a figure standing in the midst, or in front, of a shape drawn from the mythical or the quotidian, a furtive presence that straddles both the worlds of the imagined and the experienced. These symbolic spaces allow both scale and forms to compete for a reading that seems to construe a narrative, but like much which has been explored within the abstract art tradition, we are left at the edges of the image, to make it comprehensible both in the manner the human presence acts as a frontispiece and as to how it lingers often in a state or relationship that highlights its emergence from the forms that it fronts.

Such is the dilemma in looking at Rimzon’s work, that we are quite often lead mysteriously to believe that what we are viewing can be easily deciphered, with the ease with which we navigate between three to four of the easily recognisable elements which are often used. The combinations of these elements are differently scaled from their actual comparative relationship to the human figure, for instance the house, which is reduced to the scale of a tent or an edge of the forest to a size of a stomach.  These exchanges in scales within approximated realities that often straddle between the man-made environments and the human presence in semi-rural compounds, are usually configured in the form of reliefs or free standing sculptures, often ranging from actual life-size to modelled environments of receptacle scale.

Simple shapes seem to resonate sharply with key moments dedicated to specific passages in the human cycle, which have themselves been part of the visual arts’ intense recordings of global narratives including notations that regard birth, freedom, landscape and sexuality. Rimzon juxtaposes these symbolic spaces with the body in Buddhist and tantric forms mainly of the cross-legged meditation pose or those reminiscent of early Dravidian iconography, predominantly the figure of the seminal statue at Shravenbelagola. (1) His concerns about the nature of ‘being’ become more evident in the constancy of selected reiterated symbols, like video loops used by contemporary artists in video installation; the more you see them, the more a meaning tends to unfold from the process of repeated viewings.

Through the use or, more precisely, the limitation of the use of spaces and symbols in combination with the human figure, generally male, in a variety of dimensions as well as in the materials that extempore their own colours of fired clay to cast metal, one further arrives at specific historical lineages. The combination of all these decisions, the materials, the combination of symbols and scale, triggers a process of transference from one work to another, allowing a speculation of the meta-meaning of his notion of ‘being’. When this experience is further combined with drawings which are also executed within a limited iconography, we start to operate within the artist’s universe, guided by the restricted paradigms within which to make meaning rather than to furtively postpone the reading, as is so often the case, within the contemporary artworld, where so often meaning is alluded to, but constructed unevenly and haphazardly from a mass of information and positions.

In the case of the drawings, the limitations imposed by rendering an intimacy with the uninhabited landscape allows the viewer to possess its manicured gardens, where large fertile trees brimming with ripe fruit from the blessings of a good season, gracefully prostrate from the earth’s gravity. Second echoes in these Palmeresque (2) drawings are the larger pregnatedshapes which are also found in the sculptures. Within the drawings, these oval forms are represented by solid rock lingams and, further afield, by pot-like mountains that occupy the horizon and restrict the view to the starry skies. Sometimes, houses and huts are positioned within these sullen environments with their tulsi shrines and groomed grounds reminiscent of Zen Sand gardens. It is in their bereft emptiness that a strong suggestion of timelessness and a significant loneliness seems to creep in, as in an insomniac time. In Rimzon’s oeuvre a key characteristic of the English Romanticism seems to be akin to “a new kind of exotic landscape which evoked feelings of pleasant melancholy” (3)

“Rimzon views the body as a container; a receptacle of violence which has generative possibilities, a simultaneous holder of secrets and emptiness. Using the mythic beliefs of Kabir and Buddha as a starting point, Rimzon has deliberately located his works in the present day, where every claim of faith and stated truth is subject to intense scrutiny. There are traces of such apparent opposites in all his sculptures. In the relief Mother at the Shrine, he presents a roundel with a navel in the center; a pregnant belly full of possibilities but also a metaphor for the perishable clay pot that Kabir considered symbolic of the vulnerability of human life.” (4)

Exhibition Preview

So much has been sad:

In this new millennium, hope has seemingly replaced civil progress and where the world starts to resemble the tail-end of an explosion,  beginning to feel ominously stricken from its sheer abuse and neglect.  A battered planet earth is propelled in its orbit, having been administered the bluntest and stupidest treatment in the shortest period of its long existence. These two negative qualities,  have now become its servile convention. Nature itself seems to be unable to replenish itself after this shameful rape and its abundance now remains dried, defiled and broken. A less odious contempt of the chaste has never been recorded in our long history. This stranglehold never takes a rest and leads to a tyrannical submission. Artificiality has become its freedom call and this hollow state like a diseased sublime maintains a rotting core. Dying of love, a long, long time ago, it depicts a loss of control.

Rimzon’s intelligent compositions portray the interlacing of beauty and the stillness that breathes a quiet horror. This is the proclamation that has been morosely articulated in the graven world of the apocalyptical, postmodern philosophies of Jean Luc-Nancy, Jean Baudrillard and SlavokZizek.  In these current drawings, Rimzon re-affirms this same loss of hope in a clear reiteration through the pervasive quality that can only be described as soullessness; they are both germane and glaring within their details. One such recurring detail is the Munch-like scream as present in the dark orifices that seem to represent open mouths screaming. Impressionistic dark stars fill the skies like multiple eyes looking down on the terrestrial loss of lustre. Ominously still, this treatment of simple trees and the naïve fractalisation of the branches and trees feels like a reaction against the scientific rationalisation of nature.

In the sculptural works, which offer a different query, we also find small but vivid details, like the sword, signifying a dearth of compassion and latent anger, visible within the rock slabs (The dancer with the four arms, 2007). The tension in such symbolic compositions sets up a state of constant alert, of brevity and causality looming nearby and inevitably. The nakedness and vaginal, the swollen and the heavy-laden start to vibrate in his work, as suggested in this passage “The sense of secrecy and the unknown inhabits Rimzon’s drawings, emphasized by the omnipresence of enclosures and womb-like curved spaces. Although suggesting conventional “realism”, Rimzon however, has displaced the subjects from the space where they were originally observed; they are his “intentional objects of sight”. The absence of figures in his drawings communicates an oppressive silence expressing the human dichotomies of birth and death, life and destruction. The intonation of these drawings, as in the sculptures, is reflective of his distress with the contemporary universal issues of violence and alienation.” (5)

Rimzon came to an early understanding of the way artists can use materials with their inheritent qualities to assist in conveying and in helping transmitting their desired messages about the world that they conspicuously address. “I recognised that materials evoke psychic memories and feelings.  Materials have some inherent qualities and meaning – both in painting and sculpture – like in the Beuysian practice, fat was used to rejuvenate body. It is recognised as a life sustaining material. Felt produces heat. They used materials for transformation. We cannot see an art language like that as developed in the Indian art gallery context. We had been discussing Art as decorative descriptive or as reductively aesthetic terms. Not in an essential level of meaning… We haven’t done much in theory too. It is not developed here as in western art.” (6)

In recognising and using these ways to make and to communicate, Rimzon, does not believe that art can provide easily applicable answers to political & social problems and conflicts. However, art does create a space within which the conditions can be set to be able to provide the basic pre-requisites on which thinking, dreaming and discussions about politics and society are based, as well as to aesthetically amplify certain considerations about the state of time, place and reception.

Thinking about such transformations, which are conceived and structured in the tension between various methods of artistic practice and philosophies, means that Rimzon remains situated within a realm that remains subliminal to ‘insider’ dealings of the conservative artworld and, therefore, consistently exploratory. Rimzon suggests many artists including BhupenKhakhar were as keen as he is in ‘bridging commonplace and fabulous worlds’ and ‘an optimum mutability’ (7) was a way to achieve results on communicating realms that remain inspirational but gleaned from the imaginary and endowed with an ‘unease’. In being concomitant to such ways and illustrating utopic contempt, Rimzon, like his predecessor Max Ernst, is bound to ideas that make explicit a  “refusal to submit to discipline even to ones own”. (8)


(1) The star attraction at the Shravanbelagola is the 59 feet and 8 inches tall monolithic statuette belonging to Sri Gomatheswara who was the much-celebrated successor of ‘Adinath’, who is reckoned as the maiden Tirthankara. This stupendous granite embodiment of Sri Gomatheswara came into its illustrious macrocosm in 978 to 993 AD during the reign of Ganga King Rajmalla’s minister, Chundaraya.

The colossal statuette of Sri Gomatheswara, also renowned by the name of ‘Bahubali’, houses letterings in dialects like Kannad, Tamil and Marathi, which is argued to be most veteran among the trio, and believed to have been created in 981 AD. All these inscriptions convey a vivid description of the valiant upsurge and resurgence that transformed the Ganga, Hoysalas, Vijaynagar and Rasgtrakutas into a force to be reckoned with.

The primary attraction at the Shravanbelagola is the ‘Mahamastakabhiseka’ ceremony that is carried out at an interval of 12 years with great pomp and éclat. This Mahamastakabhiseka observance is marked by embrocating the head of the Sri Gomatheswara with multiple ingredients like ghee, milk, curd, saffron, and golden tokens in the form of coins.

(2) Samuel Palmer (born Newington, London, January 271805 – died Redhill, Surrey, May 241881) was an Englishlandscapepainter, etcher and printmaker. He was also a prolific writer. Palmer was a key figure in EnglishRomanticism and produced visionary pastoral paintings.

(3) Towards a definition of Romanticism

(4) KavithaBalakrishnan, Up close and personal’

(5) Ibid.

(6) Max Ernst in Peter Schamoni film “Max Ernst”

NN Rimzon