From the Land of Desire to the World of Hope by Johnny M.L., 2015
The paintings of Vibha Maurya emanate the light and spirit of ruminating afternoons. Whether it is in the balconies of high rising buildings or on the charpoys spread in the courtyards of nondescripts hamlets, women think of their lives lazily and calmly in the afternoons. In the firmament of such places one could see the clouds of sighs hovering, giving away the feeling that they would rain the untold stories of millions of women all over the world. Women are the protagonists in the paintings of Vibha Maurya and she portrays them in their lazy afternoon moods, completely free, unoccupied, thoughtful and determined to do whatever they want. These siesta zones have always fascinated women artists all over the world; right from Frida Kahlo to Amrita Shergill, from B.Prabha to Arpana Caur. In one of his novels named ‘Black Book’, the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk says that each woman carries a secret garden in her mind where she does not allow even the closest of her friends. Here in these paintings Vibha Maurya gives a sneak peek into her garden of privacy and also lets the world know how and what she thinks about her protagonists, women in general.
Vibha Maurya lives in the sprawling magical urban space called Gurgaon, a satellite city in the national capital region. Hence, when she paints her protagonists, she does not hide her ethos; the surroundings in which she lives and also has been adjusting her subjectivity. Hence, these paintings are not just about the women in general but also about her own life in particular. A vivacious, beautiful, cat eyed, golden haired, model-like woman appears in her paintings repeatedly and the very repetition of this female figure helps us to see her as the representative female figure in the galaxy of femininity created by Vibha Maurya. We could say that this woman/these women are the alter ego of the artist. Their physical presence becomes the surrogate presence of the artist herself. But that is not just the case. This female protagonist who doubles up as her alter ego, in a way tells us what a woman is not in her normal life. There could be desires and aspirations but they are bound to be curbed in the very spots of their origins. What is left for a woman to do is to sit vacantly and stare at her own private garden of secrets and pine for what has not happened and what would never happen.
However, our artist is not a person who would negotiate with the human desires passively. Considering the social restrictions and a well trained humility and domesticity, which the artist is ready to go by, her ability to critique it obliquely comes from the ‘strength’ that she gains from her alter ego as represented in the paintings. These women are bold ones who do not fail to show their dreams and desires reflected in their eyes. They are carefree enough to show their desires. They flout the social norms by preferring to sit in certain ways that are not generally accepted in the public and private domains. This is the declaration of a daring subjectivity that does not want to yield to the dictums of the male world. Women appear in various roles in these paintings and in all of them she is seen looking back or gazing back at the viewer. She does not shy away from the male or female gaze and this very ability to look back coldly is one trait that the women in India generally would definitely want to achieve within their life time. Vibha Maurya speaks up for it and she titles her paintings, ‘Desire’, ‘Strength’ and so on.
The female bodies, though not exposed in a feminist fashion, in the works of Vibha Maurya, appear as homes and clothes at the same time. Indian philosophy says that the human bodies are just homes and clothes that are changed by the souls when the homes and clothes become old and tattered. Vibha Maurya, in her body of works redefines this point of view by emphasizing the comfort level that these women feel with their own bodies. They are comfortable in their own homes and the clothes that they wear add to the allure of their general feel. Their relaxed posture and their contented looks declare their ability to have such homes and flaunt them whenever and wherever it is needed. Vibha Maurya, without raising slogans and without resorting to so much of skin flashing achieves the goals that the aspirants of female freedom have set. She does not take a moral stance that showing nudity or flashing skin is a sin. She comes from the afternoon thoughts that are translated into canvases and other mediums.
There is a dreamy quality about all the works of Vibha Maurya. She uses the colors suitable to express the dreaminess. Though the predominance of pink and blue could be interpreted as an emphasis over the high society life, the colors do not objectify the protagonists into mere consumable ‘things’. They look more like images that have come out of the pop-art category of paintings. In fact, the language of Vibha Maurya has a lot to do with Pop-art, which is flashy and humorously critical about its own existence. The artist appears as a witness to all what is going on in these paintings; exactly the way she portrays her protagonists who are vacant witnesses of the happenings around. There from a high rising building, the protagonist sees the metro train passing by. Interestingly she also witnesses her fellow women but from other classes caught in different life situations such as crossing a busy road or queuing up for cooking gas cylinders and so on. Here the artist stands in a vantage position, which also tells her social position as different from that of those women who are portrayed. Between the highly aspirant and desiring women, and the toiling women who try hard to make both ends of their daily lives meet, the artist stands like the mythical Janus looking on either side and identifying herself with those women seen there.
Both in the drawings and paintings Vibha Maurya uses a perspective in order to underline the location differences. Whether the women protagonists are seen within their drawing rooms or in garbage dumps, they are the real rulers of those spaces. They in their silent but strong presence dominate the space both in the real and pictorial arenas. Though it is said that the women in Vibha Maurya’s paintings display a sense of brooding and ruminating they are not devoid of the pleasures and celebrations of life. Some of them are seen dancing, some of them are seen in a very jovial mood, which means that the artist imparts them with the different moods of life so that they could live a full life within the pictorial format, at least. Vibha Maurya’s works are optimistic in nature. They wait for a great future to reveal itself for the protagonists. Both the rich and the poor women want to move from their present spaces and move forward to a different and exciting life. The silence is broken and thoughts of these women become intense and shrill as we look on, and they appear to get animated within the canvases.
Vibha Maurya celebrates that animation and she smiles at the stillness which is deceptive. She sees light at the other end of the tunnel where she believes that along with her protagonists she too could walk into a different world, where time, sense of freedom and other parameters of life for both men and women are different from the previous side.
Hence, Vibha Maurya’s paintings are a passage and a journey through which people could escape to a world of freedom.