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Expression

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Where do you draw the line between art and dance? Does performance art as a category really explain it? Can art really be contained by terms created to explain it? Is it all about just blurring the boundaries? Or is it far more complicated than all that? Watching a young artist, Sejal Surendra Sood, using her canvases to explore dance in acrylics and oils through the medium of dance itself made one reflect on the role of ‘isms’ and ‘disciplines’ and their divisive effect. After all isn’t art the expression of the human experience in its totality? And does that totality need labels? For Sejal, who describes herself as a dancer and a painter, there’s no dilemma. Hers is a stretched canvas that incorporates her movements as a dancer just as easily as it does her brush strokes. For her, dance is an all-encompassing experience going beyond mere movement and into the realm of the spiritual. Trained as a classical dancer (in Mohiniattam and Bharatnatyam; two of either Indian classical dances), Sejal has used her training to fuel her spirit, stepping over the boundaries laid by the classical disciplines she trained in. Instead she uses dance as an expressive, emotive trampoline to connect with her being and her art as a whole. In dance, Sejal does not confine herself to Mohiniattam or Bharatnatyam alone, she explores and experiences difference forms of dance using her classical roots as a springboard. And as she puts it, “My art dissolves boundaries of culture and religion, focusing on the universality of movement and its relevance to life.” Sejal uses the canvas as an effective medium to express this but doesn’t just let the acrylics and oils do the talking. Her latest oeuvre at the Indian Embassy’s Indian Cultural Centre Bangkok, “Dance is…” brought together dance, music, poetry and acrylics/oils on canvas for an evening devoted to art as a whole. The evening also ended up exploring the perceived limits of art – pushing at its boundaries. With her painting as the background, Sejal and two other dancers expressed themselves through dance movements pulling in the normally passive viewer into a vortex of emotions, colour and music. It was intense and mesmerizing not only for those present but also the artist and her fellow dancers who had to literally shake themselves out of the trance-like state they found themselves in after each performance. In between the dance presentations, the viewer was left to contemplate the movements captured on canvas. Interestingly “Dance Is..” also represents the journey Sejal undertook when she set off on a mission of self-discovery starting in NYC, making her way east to Mumbai, before landing in Bangkok. As a trained mathematician from MIT, Sejal admits that she “gets lost in the beautiful patterns dance creates attempting to capture the movement in space made by the dancer in vibrant colours.” Her canvases are hard to slot, moving from blurs of movement to interpreting traditional icons such as the Nataraj, the Lord of Dance – as Shiva is also traditionally portrayed. And that in essence is their attraction, they are not a freeze frame of a moment in dance but the very movement itself… her initial works portraying the struggle of the artist and dancer shrugging off the confining cocoon of tradition and ‘isms’; the latter coming from a calmer being who has ascertained her place in the cosmic dance of life… someone whose creative mind acknowledges no boundaries, self-created or otherwise. Her strokes move from the heavy, emotion layered and textured, to lighter and firmer almost as if the brush understands the emotional growth of the artist and dancer that is Sejal. While most of the artwork sought inspiration from practice jam sessions Sejal had with her co-dancers, in which she delve deeper into the spontaneity of movement, the centerpiece of the exhibition (pictured on the left) is a kaleidoscopic interpretation of her seven years of dance experiences as an artist.