Phantoms of Asia, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 2012
Varunika Saraf’s painting follow the Indian miniature traditions of the Mughal and Kangra courts while also exploding them into new scales, literally and metaphorically. Trained in traditional Wasli painting, the artist creates both small compositions that can be held in two hands and large works that fill entire walls. She uses traditional subjects from mythology and nature that evoke specific associations and stir emotion, but only as players in an imagined, otherworldly cosmos. Throughout Saraf’s compositions of supernatural hybrids and impossible landscapes, she references well-known works of art from all over the world that became a point of entry for viewers, giving them a lifeline amid the cosmic journey into the artist’s imagination. In Cloudburst, 2010, a large-scale painting with a traditional Indian approach to pictorial space, we see the iconic Indian image, Dying Inayat Khan, painted in 1618 to record Mughal court official’s death. Saraf shows is Inayat flying through her swirling cosmos, presumably to heaven. Hokusai’s familiar waves eighteenth-century woodblock prints surround Island, 2010, while other compositions recall the works of Frida Kahlo, Hieronymus Bosch. And Marc Chagall- all of which conjure a sense of mythological surrealism. As clouds of peering eyes encircle a forest in Untitles, 2010, suggest, Saraf’s paintings gaze back upon us, becoming a “third eye” to transport us into an inner realm of higher consciousness”.
Allison Harding, “Asian Cosmologies: Envisioning the Invisible”, in Mami Kataoka and Allison Harding Phantoms of Asia, Asian Art Museum, 2012