Ranjani Shettar, Varsha, 2012
Now come the days of changing beauty,
of summer’s parting as the monsoon comes,
when the eastern gales come driving in,
perfumed with blossoming arjuna and sal trees,
tossing the clouds as smooth and dark as sapphires:
days that are sweet with the smell of rain-soaked earth.
—Bhavabhūti, eighth century
Translated from the Sanskrit by Daniel H. H. Ingalls
Ranjani Shettar’s Varsha, an artist’s book published by the Library Council of The Museum of Modern Art in late 2012, evokes aspects of 16 phases of the monsoon and the classical Indian astronomy used to predict them. The accordion-folding volume, bound in hand-worked metal, includes 16 original prints, each corresponding to a specific period of the rainy season.
Anita Desai contributed an original essay for the project, published in a brochure that accompanies the artist’s book, along with poetry by Bhavabhūti and Rabindranath Tagore and the lyrics from a Kannada folk song.
The artist’s drawn, painted, and photographic representations of changing skies, new vegetation, and other effects of monsoon rains are rendered in etching, silkscreen, hand-carved woodcut, pigment printing, and laser cut. The varied images (prepared on teakwood blocks, etching plates, and paper) in the artist’s studio in a rural part of the state of Karnataka, in Southern India, show a range of intensities of shadow and light, color, and texture to express the passage of diverse elemental experiences—a sky filled with darkening, premonitory clouds; a splash of gentle rain on a window; hoofprints on the ground. Cutout patterns of small spheres on each print represent the constellations present in the sky during the six- to seven-month period when first the expectation and then the effects of the rains dominate the rhythms of life in India. (The official monsoon period is from June through September.) In her treatment of these star clusters Shettar alludes to the nakshat ras, the ancient Indian star charts established some 5,000 years ago and still widely used in rural agriculture, almanacs, and calendars to determine the schedules of planting, harvesting, and religious events across the subcontinent.
The 16 prints in the book are named after 16 nakshatras (from a total of 28 in a calendar year), each with its own astrological, mythopoetic, and religious significance: 1. Ashwini. Solar etching and laser cut; 2. Bharani. Solar etching, silkscreen, and laser cut; 3. Krittika. Solar etching and laser cut; 4. Rohini. Solar etching and laser cut; 5. Mrigashira. Woodcut and laser cut; 6. Ardra. Laser cut; 7. Punarvasu. Laser cut; 8. Pushya. Woodcut and laser cut; 9. Ashlesha. Spit-bite etching and laser cut; 10. Makha. Woodcut and laser cut; 11. Purva Phalguni. Woodcut and laser cut; 12. Uttara Phalguni. Woodcut and laser cut; 13. Hasta. Woodcut and laser cut; 14. Chitta. Pigment print and laser cut; 15. Swathi. Woodcut and laser cut; 16. Vishaka. Solar etching and laser cut.
About the artist
Ranjani Shettar (born Bangalore, 1977) lives in the Shimoga district in Karnataka, India. She is best known for her ethereal sculptural installations. Her work has been exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Delhi; the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; and the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, among other institutions.
Varsha is printed in a signed and numbered edition of 150 copies, including 25 copies reserved for the artist. The accordion-fold book measures approximately 11 x 15 x 3” closed; when unfolded, it extends to nearly 40 feet long. Each of its 16 prints appears on a folded 11 x 30” sheet. It comes in a handmade box covered in buckram.
Ranjani Shettar conceived and prepared the artwork in Karnataka, India. The book is bound with two zinc-alloy covers inlaid with silver. To make these covers Shettar collaborated with the craftsman M. A. Rauf and his son Mohammed Abdul Bari in Bidar, Karnataka. Rauf and his associates continue a centuries-old tradition of combining zinc and copper, which is brought to a rich black color when cooked in the unique soil of the Bidar Fort. Randy Hemminghaus editioned the five solarplate etchings, the spit-bite etching, and the silkscreen print with Kristen Cavagnet, Nick Pilato, Sarika Sugla, and Jonathan Higgins, at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick. Brad Ewing editioned the seven woodcut prints at the Grenfell Press, New York City. Jonathan Singer editioned the pigment print at Singer Editions, Boston. Twinrocker Handmade Paper, Brookston, Indiana, made paper especially for this project; the paper was laser cut by Tietz-Baccon in Brooklyn, New York. Thegraphic design for the accompanying brochure is by Leslie Miller, Grenfell Press. Mark Tomlinson bound the metal covers and printed volume in Easthampton, Massachusetts. The project was organized for the Library Council of The Museum of Modern Art by May Castleberry, Editor, Contemporary Editions.
Note: The poem by Bhavabhūti is reprinted by permission of the publisher from An Anthology of Sanskrit Court Poetry: Vidyakara’s “Subhasitaratnakosa”, translated by Daniel H. H. Ingalls (Harvard Oriental Series, 44), Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, © 1965 by the President and Fellows of the Harvard College.
To Place an Order
Twenty-five copies from the edition are available for purchase at a pre-publication price of $8,000. All sales benefit the Library and Museum Archives of The Museum of Modern Art. To purchase a copy please contact the Library and Museum Archives, The Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019. Telephone: 212-708-9430. Email: [email protected] or [email protected].