Jyoti Sahi (b.1944 – )
Plucking the string that binds, n.d. [prior to 1996]
Pastel on sand
44cm x 41cm
Loaned by Revd Dr Tim Macquiban, Chester
Plucking the string that binds
“Plucking the string that binds” takes as its inspiration a verse from George Herbert`s poem Easter.
George Herbert (1593-1633) is the great Anglican priest-poet of the 17th century who forsook a life at court and in politics for the simplicity of local church ministry at Bemerton on the edge of the family estate of his relatives, the Earls of Pembroke. His poems were taken by his good friend Nicholas Ferrar who set up a community at nearby Little Gidding and published in The Temple (1633) which was published in eight editions before 1700. Several are still used as hymns by many Christian hymnals, including Teach me my God and King, King of Glory, King of Peace, Let all the world in every corner sing and Come my way, my truth, my life.
Many of his poems relate to the individual seeking to praise God and wrestling with human frailties, overcoming spiritual struggles and dryness. They use many features of the church (altar, windows, furniture floor) and its festivals (Christmas, Easter, Whitsunday) as well as everyday objects (collar, pulley, flowers, stars, banquet from his knowledge of the law, commerce, medicine, architecture and above all music). He was in some degree one of the metaphysical poets, of the school of John Donne, in using these images and allusions in connecting what Richard Baxter the later reformed pastor called heart-work and heaven-work in his practical and pastoral ministry.
The poem Easter takes as its inspiration the psalm of praise (57) for the morning service of Easter Day, coupled with the invitation for all believers to lift up their hearts as in the opening part of the communion prayer. Herbert likens the praise of those gathered for worship as musicians bringing their skills to bear on their instrument (here the lyre a symbol of poetry) with the emotions of the thankful heart seeking to make melody in the soul as well as on the “lute and harp”. The second verse reminds readers that Easter is not possible without a work that strains, the offering of Christ on the Cross. The harp and the strings stretched across its frame signify the flesh of Christ linked with the wood of the passion. A higher key in the music is more desirable to make the harmony complete, as with Easter seizing life out of the death of Good Friday. Philip Sheldrake writes of this verse: “Herbert greets the risen Easter Lord with the image of lute playing. Christ`s arms stretched on the cross are compared to the taut strings of the lute that are tuned to just the right pitch to make the appropriate notes. Hebert calls on God`s Spirit to `bear a part` and thus enrich the imperfect harmony of human attempts to praise God”.
Sahi takes the image of the player of the musical instrument and makes the latter central to his composition. The structure of the instrument resembles that of the swarmandal (Hindi: स्वरमण्डल [s̪ʋərmən̪ɖəl̪]), surmandal or Indian harp which is a plucked box zither. The hands of the player are both plucking the strings and raised in adoration and praise as they make music which is the offering of the heart, expressed in the open lips, and hands. His use of materials including dry sand bring an earthiness to the divine creation of life out of death through God`s work on the Cross.
(Revd Dr Tim Macquiban, Chester)
Jyoti’s work is well represented in public and private collections across the world and his work is included in the special collections of the School of Divinity at Edinburgh University and at St Andrew’s Church in Aylestone Leicestershire. (Guide to the Methodist Art Collection)
Jyoti draws his inspiration from Indian cultures, mythologies and mysticism. At a recent conference organised by Catholic Bishops in South India, the exhibition displayed an artist’s attempts to present Jesus Christ and Christian themes in Indian settings, helping to convey Christian ideas to thousands of non-Christians in India.
Jyoti uses his paintings to blend biblical themes with his native symbols and pieces of folk, tribal and Vedic symbols to take Jesus closer to non-Christians in India.
“I have known Jyoti Sahi personally, and his creative paintings are path-breaking. They introduced a paradigm shift in art, using folk, tribal and Hindu cultural symbols,” Bishop Thomas Dabre of Poona told UCA News in a published article. Through his evocative art, Sahi attempts to make Jesus look like an Indian. He aims to make Jesus accessible to a multicultural and multifaith Indian milieu, said the bishop, a former professor of Indian spirituality and traditions at the Papal Athenaeum, in Pune.
Sahi, who once thought of becoming a Benedictine monk, took up a vocation of painting. With some others, he pioneered the Indian Christian Art Movement, encouraging artistic expressions of Christian themes. As a graphic artist, he has churned out woodcut prints on the Psalms and Acts of Mercy. Along with his books on meditations on Christian themes, they are published in German and English.
Jesuit Father Roy M. Thottam said Sahi is known as a theologian with the brush. He draws his inspiration from Indian cultures, mythologies and mysticism as well as tribal and folk traditions. “He has depicted Christ variously as ‘the tree of life’, ‘Lord of Dance’ and ‘Christ the living water.’ He combines Biblical symbols with cultural symbols,” said Father Thottam, who trained as a painter under Sahi. The priest said that when the inculturation process happened widely in India some four decades ago, Indian artists responded to it. “Artists experimented with Christian themes in Indian style.”
(Rev Dr Tim Macquiban, Chester)