“Ain’t Nothing But A Cosmic Ocean….”

 

“… then a flash of light, and the cosmos unfolding, stars and planets and nebula ….”
— The Cop, THE CHRONICLES OF KALKI

 

What does the universe look like to you? A mobile of crystal spheres? A jester’s hat? The face of a blue-skinned god painted with blood-red lipstick? A fishbowl? A forbidden planet? And the heavier question — what is humanity’s place in it?

B., Shiv, Girls 1 and 2, and even tough-as-nails Kalki, all try to figure out their places in the world by looking to the cosmos. B. looks up to Galileo as a hero who refuses to believe that he is wrong about his convictions, while Shiv sails an sea made of stars to make sense of her past and take ownership of her future. Kalki — trapped in human form and longing for the cosmic ocean — shows the girls that the most awesome power comes from within oneself. She hangs out in Girl 2’s bedroom, decorated with ceiling-stuck glowstars, and compares it to sacred space: “Your room is deep. Your room is like where people go to pray. It’s a temple.” This theme of displacement is one of Aditi Kapil’s Easter eggs in the trilogy — almost none of the characters are sure of where they stand in a world that seems to demand the mathematical impossibility that all of us are #1.

Bapu and Shiv sail the cosmic ocean.

To feel displaced is to be human, Kapil seems to suggest, and Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time by “astrovisualist” Michael Benson backs up the outsider feelings of B., Shiv, and Kalki’s girl crew with a millenia’s worth of evidence.  The book features artists’ and scientists’ renderings of the universe going back centuries, and this review by Maria Popova gives a sneak peak into some of the illustrations, as well as links to further reading about Galileo, William Blake, and the history of miracles. Be sure to check it out and see if your vision of the cosmos matches up to a seventeenth-century Italian’s!

One of the drawings from Cosmigraphics.

Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation

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Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation is an exhibition currently running at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. — it showcases Indian-American culture, history and experiences. As reported by the BBC:

The curators from the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center say it about the “history and contemporary experiences of Indian Americans as they have grown to be one of the more diverse and well-recognised communities in the United States”.

With a population of 2.8 million, Indian Americans are the third largest group among Asian Americans.

They are also among the wealthiest communities in the US, with a median annual household income of $88,000 (£52,900) compared with the national median of $49,800 (£29,900), according to one study.

And more than 70% of Indian American immigrants over 18 years of age speak English very well, compared with 53% of all Asian American immigrants.

The vast exhibition covers everything from Indian American food to yoga, engineers to cab drivers, and the LGBT community to hip hop.

In addition to the physical exhibit, the museum has also curated a fantastic digital collection that you can view from anywhere online, as well as a blog featuring interviews and insight from the artists and people involved with the project, and a collection of Indian American family portraits on Pinterest.

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There’s a lot of amazing context to explore – check it out!

These Ape Paintings Are Gangsta: The Mewar Ramayana

The Ramayana — “Rama’s journey” in Sanskrit — is one of the oldest written epics and a prominent pillar of Hindu literature and Desi culture. Most children grow up hearing tales of Prince Rama, either through books, comics, movies, or, like, B. in BRAHMAN/I, from relatives. The Ramayana is one of the Easter eggs in the DISPLACED HINDU GODS TRILOGY, and each play bears thematic links to the epic.

The Ramayana deals with the Hindu concept of duty, dharma, and, through the adventures of Prince Rama, readers or listeners learn how to behave virtuously and fulfill one’s duty. Rama himself is the seventh avatar of Vishnu, and thus displays the decorum and leadership expected of a warrior king, heroically defeating the ten-headed demon Ravana. The supporting characters include Sita, Rama’s devoted and faithful wife, Lakshmana; his loyal and brave brother, Hanuman; the Monkey King and Rama’s ally; and the hijras, who are rewarded for their fealty to Rama after waiting fourteen years in the forest for him to return from exile.

Each play in the trilogy either directly references or is inspired by Rama’s story. In BRAHMAN/I, B. resents identification with the “genetically stupid” hijras despite Auntie’s enthusiasm for them and instead prefers the “gangsta” Hanuman. But B.’s path to self-discovery includes fulfilling their duty to themselves and accepting that they are don’t have to fit into the dominant gender binary. B. casts their back-up musician J as Odysseus from the ancient Greek Odyssey, and at the end of the play, both characters have returned from a kind of outsider’s exile and learned to accept each other and themselves. Kalki, the tenth avatar of Vishnu, struggles in THE CHRONICLES OF KALKI to come to terms with her present humanity and its attendant emotions that are an obstacle to fulfilling her duty to vanquish evil. She remembers her past incarnation as Rama and being “loved for doing so little.” Though SHIV’s direct reference to the Ramayana passes quickly (listen for the conversation about Vimanas — ancient flying machines), Shiv’s conflicting duties to honor the memory of her father while pursuing her own happiness reflect the Ramayana-inspired struggles with responsibilities in a world beyond binaries.

Aditi’s trilogy incorporates riffs on the Ramayana story, but hundreds of versions of the epic exist dating from the eleventh century to the present day for those wanting to read the original tale. One favorite we discovered is displayed online in the British Library’s virtual rare books exhibit. The Mewar Ramayana is a lavishly illustrated copy prepared for the Maharana Jagat Singh, who ruled the western Indian kingdom of Mewar in the seventeenth-century and whose family traced their lineage back to Prince Rama and the sun god. A team of artists created the book for the king, and it features over 450 full-color illustrations. The British Library digitized the manuscript and has created a clickable folio that readers can browse through.

The Mewar Ramayana has Easter eggs of its own: multispectral imaging during the digitazation process revealed multiple layers to the paintings that show the techniques used by the artists, as well as revisions and corrections painted over later. Below are some scans of the battle between Rama’s army and Ravana and include a secret appearance by the Trimurti. Check out the rest here!

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Khajuraho, Temple of Love

BRAHMAN:

That’s right. Where right wing politics, wimpy school districts, and squeamish parents fail their teenage constituency daily, the loud embarrassing relative with the South Asian art history textbook comes through!

(Auntie) “Khajuraho! The Temple of Love!”

I would now like to share with you a few of the more memorable illustrations.

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Khajuraho, sometimes referred to as the Kamasutra Temple or Temple of Love, is actually a group of monuments spread over about 20 square kilometers in the northeastern part of Madhya Pradesh, within the Vindhya mountain range of central India. It is a major tourist and archaeological site, as well as a UNESCO world heritage site. Khajuraho is renowned for its intricately sculptured temples dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, and Jain deities, and for the sexually explicit carvings that make up about 10% of the temple art. The temples are divided into three sections or zones – western, eastern and southern. The western complex is the largest of the three and comprises the most popular temples.

Most of the Khajuraho temples were built during the Chandela dynasty between 950 and 1050 AD and were in active use through the end of 12th century. This changed in the 13th century, after the army of Delhi Sultanate, under the command of the Muslim Sultan Qutb-ud-din Aibak, attacked and seized the Chandela kingdom. The region remained under the control of various Muslim dynasties from 13th century through the 18th century, and during this period, several temples were desecrated and many others left in neglect. Of the surviving temples, six are dedicated to Shiva and his consorts, eight to Vishnu and his affinities, one to Ganesha, one to Sun god, and three to Jain Tirthanks.

Saris Drying in the Sun

SHIV:  I have this childhood memory of saris drying on a beach. Longer sheets, more colorful, but that same feeling… of wind catching sails… My mother used to take us down to the water, we’d play while she dried her saris in the sun with all her friends, long narrow swathes of shining silk as far as the eye could see.

 

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Bindi: Status Symbol and Fashion Statement

Girl 1: What’s that?

Kalki: Bindi.

Girl 2: Where’d you get them?

Kalki: You can buy ‘em for like a buck at any Indian grocery, I have a shit-load.

Bindi is a forehead decoration worn in several South Asian countries, including India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. The word comes from the Sanskrit word bindu, meaning “a drop” or “small particle,” and is usually seen as a red or maroon dot. They may also be an elongated pear shape, or a series of lines on or around the forehead. Hindu women wear bindi primarily, but men may have these markings as well. Traditionally, the bindi is placed between the eyebrows – the area said to be the sixth chakra and seat of concealed wisdom, or representative of the third eye.

hindu-bindi

In India, the bindi still holds the symbolic significance of Hindu mythology for many women. In Nothern India especially, married women wear bindi as a marker of social status and to convey commitment to their husband. However, there are different regional variations of the bindi, and in much of South Asia the bindi is more of a decorative item worn as a fashion statement, regardless of religious affiliation or nationality.

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The kind of bindi Kalki gives the girls are sticker bindi – disposable substitutes for the traditional kind made with kumkum or vermilion powder. Sticker bindi come in many colors, designs, and sizes. Some look traditional, but others may have rhinestones or other embellishments.

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Women often wear bindi during ceremonial events and important rituals. By bestowing each of the girls with bindi, Kalki is acknowledging that they have completed a significant rite of passage.

Inspiration from Joss Whedon’s FRAY

The KALKI team continues to explore color in the design process, as well as how a comic book aesthetic can be applied to the design concept. Images from the graphic novel Fray by Joss Whedon are really resonating with us — the rich colors and totally badass central character are a great jumping off place for lights and costumes. Here are some selected pages:

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The way action moves quickly from frame to frame is something we are trying to emulate in our staging as well.

 

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Like Kalki, Melaka is a badass slayer who vanquishes evil. She’s also in control of her body and exudes a confident sexuality.

 

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Members of Company One’s artistic and production teams can access more of the comic by visiting the “Research Sources” page in the “C1 BIZ” Menu above, or by clicking HERE.

Not a member of the team, and curious to see more?  Get a copy at your local comics shop, or click HERE.

 

“We are fighting kites.”

BAPU: Should we reel in our ugly kite, or cut it? It’s probably against the rules here to cut the string, it would disrupt all those other pretty store-bought kites. It is your decision, what do you want to do? Come now, Shivratri. We’re not dainty little decorative kites, you and me. We are fighting kites. What do you say?

The fighting kite serves as a touchstone image for Shiv’s journey throughout the play. Kite battles are a popular sport across India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, as well as areas of Brazil, Vietnam, and Korea. Made of lightweight paper, their strings are coated with a paste of rice flour and ground glass, making them sharp enough to damage and fell competitors’ kites.

Check out the images of kites and kite festivals, below, as well as a great documentary short from the NYT about the migration of the fighting kite to America.

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The Topography of the World

In the SHIV design process, we’re coming back again and again to this passage, below, as a guidestar for the aesthetic world of the play.

SHIV: My father grew up in Punjab. Before the green revolution when it was all sand as far as the eye could see. He’d tell this story about how some nights it would storm, you could hear the wind and sand whipping against the village from every side. When you woke in the morning, the land had shifted in the night. It was like the topography of the world had changed, familiar hills and valleys gone, new ones have appeared out of nowhere. You stayed in one place, but the map of the world changed. And you had to go out and discover, and map, the world anew. For yourself.

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