Is there at the core of any narrative a mystery that cannot be elucidated?, 2023


"Is there at the core of any narrative a mystery that cannot be elucidated?"

24 inch/ 61 cm diameter, 1.5 inch/ 3.8 cm thick
Handmade papier-mâché disc, Acrylic paint and UV Matte Varnish, 2023

A trunk of a Chhatri Tree (Umbrella tree) I found on banks of Nageen Lake, in Srinagar, its twists and turns a metaphor for the complexities inherent in storytelling. Its shape and border are filled in by craftsmen with motifs typical to Kashmir. The title is an often uttered mantra by my friend the film-maker Jean-Pierre Gorin when attempting to explain the dense core at the heart of storytelling around which a narration ensues.

The papier-mâché disc upon which it is painted is prepared in the traditional way by craftsmen of the area. The rough papier-mâché surface is smoothened over with clay from the banks of the River Jhelum flowing nearby, following which delicate tissue papers are glued over it, creating a very absorptive surface to paint upon. The thickness the of the disc allows the work an object like presence.

Papier-mâché, a popular craft, was introduced to Kashmir by Sufi preachers from Central Asia and Iran, such as Mir Sayyid Ali Hamdani (1312-1385). They taught their believers craft techniques as a means for them to keep their hands busy and therefore closer to god. Thus, the craft of papier-mâché objects such as caskets and jewellery boxes decorated with finely painted motifs spread across Kashmir and this history adds to the medium's symbolic heft.


For this work the craftsmen I work with filled in the outline with silver motifs on a grey background. I choose this palette as a means to play with optical imbalances - the silver changes in colour as one walks around the work, from a gleaming intensity to a dark opaque grey. I used the painted silver motifs as a ground upon which to draw the details of the root with my own brushwork.

This layering, of the craftsman's fine motif upon which my line, impressionistic, is added, adds texture to the work and a connection between different iconographies and therefore histories. Lastly, a decorative border was added to the work as an experiment as, after discussions in the karkhana, it was felt the it was needed and that we had never painted a border over the more narrative of the works till ten. A border was also created for the work Landscapes{s} which, along with this work, was made over the course of the time I spent working with the craftsmen in Hasan Abad during 2023.