m its exoticism and embrace its technique and aesthetics

Veena Basavarajaiah is a performing artist from India who is currently doing her MA in South Asian Dance Studies at Roehampton University London and Avatara is part of a research that stemmed out of her research at the University. Veena Basavarajaiah embarked on the photography project ‘Avatara’ with UK based photographer Simon Richardson and British Pakistani make-up artist Riffat Bahar. The result was a stunning recreation of temple sculptures on a dancing body. These images are further incorporated in a performance, an installation that facilitates audience interaction with the images within a photo booth. The installation is a collaboration with artist Shreekanth Rao( India).

Avatara. The word 'avatara' means embodiment and this project is inspired by the South Asian dance sculptures at the Victoria & Albert Museum and British Museum in London. The project aims to look at how dance and movement is objectified through sculptures, paintings, videos and images when it is divorced from its ephemerality/performance/liveness. It explores ways of bringing these objects to life through interaction and performance. It is designed to develop into a performance installation that questions the relationship between subject-object, images-movement and past-present identity in a contemporary context. It objective of this research is to break the invisible wall between the art, object and the audience by finding ways of embodiment between them.

Evoking of the temple dancer

As a Bharatnatyam dancer , my journey has been about embodying the essence of the form that has its roots embedded in the history, culture, tradition and religion prevalent in the Indian sub-continent. The sculptures and paintings found in many Indian temples are often representations of this dancer. Years of training had ensured that the movements were engraved in my body . The challenge was to recreate this image through photography. In order to achieve this objective, the adornments, costumes and presentation had to be recreated. A couple of visits to the museums in London that host South Asian Dance sculpture marked the beginning of this research.

The first stage was to reconstruct this image and embody the sculpture.For costume and jewellry, I used ropes ( clothesline )and found different ways to tie them in series so that they would resemble the jewelry carved on these sculptures. Sprayed them with bronze paint so they blend into the entire look of the costume . The same method was used to design jewelry for the hair as well. For body paint and the entire look , the perfect collaborator was Riffat Bahar, a UK based Henna Artist.


Working with Riffat Bahar , the henna and body artist was a learning experience. She has been a Henna artist for more than 20 years and excels in traditional and contemporary henna art, she has also been a professional make-up artist and stylist . Born in Karachi( Pakistan) she was familiar with sculptures and the nuances of Indian dance. A perfectionist by nature, she loved being challenged creatively and was willing to improvise spontaneously to create the perfect look. She had helped me source the right paints and make-up from a professional online store. The entire process of body paint and henna took a total of five hours. Her focus on every detail was meditative but also strenuous on her body. She would ensure that every detail about the look was flawless. More information about Riffat can be found on www.riffat.co.uk

Working with photographer Simon Richardson is a privilege . He is open to different ideas and his studio in Bedford is an artists' haven, it is a perfect space, to improvise, experiment and explore new ideas. He seeks perfection in his work and having him as a collaborator enabled me to push my creative boundaries. More details about his work can be found on www.simonrichardson.org

Avatara at Stockholm Fringe festival ( Stoff 2012)

Project Avatara was presented at Stockholm Fringe Festival in August (Stoff 2012). The Fringe Festival attracted more than 1300 proposals from 65 countries and project Avatara was one of the 400 selected productions that featured at Stoff 2012. Avatara is a unique installation project that looks at classical Indian dance as a displaced form that belongs to a different history and space. The performance installation is a photo booth where the audience interact with incomplete sculptures of the past and complete the image in the present. As the audience participate and embody movements of the past, in their small unique way, for a moment they divorce the form from its exoticism and try to embody the physicality in the present.