This collection of rare, abstract Tantric painting originates in French poet Franck André Jamme’s journey to India twenty-five years ago when he first searched in vain for the source of these intensely beautiful and concise works. On the road to Jaipur, he survived a deadly bus accident, returning to Paris with wounds that took two years to heal. Back in India just a few years later, he met a soothsayer who proclaimed that Jamme, in his suffering, had paid sufficient tribute to the goddess Shakti and—so long as he vowed to visit the tantrikas alone or with someone he truly loves—he could enter the very private communities of adepts who make and use these paintings for their spiritual practice.
While they invoke the highly symbolic cosmology of Hindu Tantra, these contemporary, anonymous drawings from Rajasthan are unlike the more familiar strands of Tantric art. The progeny of hand-written, illustrated religious treatises from the 17th century, copied across many generations, these drawings have evolved into a distinct visual lexicon used to awaken heightened states of consciousness. Like musicians playing ragas of classical Indian music, tantrikas draw in a concentrated state of mental rapture, repeating and subtly reinterpreting melodic structures of line and color. When complete, the drawings—made in tempera, gouache, and watercolor on salvaged paper—are pinned to the wall to use in private meditation.
Possessing an uncanny affinity with a range of 20th century abstract art, the paintings also have a magnetic, vibratory beauty that inspires acute attention even in the uninitiated. Jamme has written brief, luminous texts that further open readers to their subtle magic and enrich the space for boundless contemplation. Drawing on a unique body of knowledge accumulated over two decades, Jamme has assembled a singular and revelatory collection, in which East and West, the spiritual and the aesthetic, the ancient and the modern converge.
Tantra', an esoteric and complex branch of Hinduism, might be explained in simple terms as a path towards spiritual perfection and magical power.
Although the exhibition includes a few examples of other imagery from the Tantric canon, most of the paintings depict 'Shiva linga'. The Sanskrit word 'lingam', originally meaning 'mark' or 'sign', often refers to the phallus or symbol of male creative energy that is complementary to the 'yoni', which means both 'source' and 'female'. The term 'Shiva lingam', however, describes one of the forms of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and transformation and one of the trinity of deities that also includes Brahma and Vishnu. It shows him in his unborn and invisible state.
Unlike sculptural 'Shiva linga', which are commonly phallic in shape, the linga in these paintings are ovoid and accrue some of the symbolic associations of the 'egg-shaped cosmos', a concept that can be traced back to ancient Sanskrit scriptures such as the Brahmanda Purana. (The idea of the 'hiranyagarbha', the 'golden womb' or 'golden egg' that symbolizes the birth of the cosmos and the source of all energy, is another point of comparison). Each painting, an image of liminal space, depicts creation and dissolution.
Shiva, above all, is responsible for change. He causes both death and destruction and, more benignly, the elimination of the ego and false identification with form.