Aranka Israni’s “Nudes” Exhibition

Exploring the philosophical underpinnings of the photographer's debut solo show

Aranka Israni‘s first solo exhibition debuts in conjunction with Arles 2015, Les Rencontres de la Photographie, the international photography festival renowned for unveiling new work. For Aranka—who withdrew from the art world seven years ago seeking to imbue her practice with greater depth—the show marks a significant return. This show, “Nudes,” is an homage to, and an expansion of, the artistic accord formed with the festival’s founder, noted master of light and form, Lucien Clergue.

Aranka ricocheted between cultures throughout her formative years, and she speaks French and Hindi. When speaking English, her voice carries the unplaceable inflections of a person who has in lived in London, attended high school in Dubai, completed her undergraduate work in California and earned a Masters Degree from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Alighting on the body of work is the artist’s search for unity within the human condition. Her attraction is to the revelation of the source from which we all emanate.

In that pursuit, her two distinct artistic vocabularies grasp at the expanse for which the human form is a vessel. In slow shutter images, subjects move in and out of focus capturing the “energetic, spiritual and psychological transitions that we go through coming in and out of our shadow,” she tells CH. Her work is striking, but subtle—she says she likes to “plant the seeds, that direct the viewers thoughts,” but perhaps not instruct them.

In capturing bodies passing in and out of abstraction, Aranka mirrors the “discovery process of our being, traveling into our own depth.” Her exploration is manifest by a series of deeply personal, spiritual bodies of work. In canvases that could be images taken from a space telescope, she treats the byproduct of stones faceted by Jaipur’s gem-cutters as pigment, pulling the dust through resin. These “Constellations” are a collaboration with the material’s inherent tension. The resin contracts as it cools. Aranka’s hands resist points of gravitation. Particles find their depth. Hopscotching through the material of spiritual realities, acupuncture needles are pierced into a representation of the iChing, the Chinese Book of Changes, and assembled into softly quivering mandalas.

It is from her own explorations in consciousness that Aranka became adept in the use of symbols. Central to the nudes is the Jungian concept of the shadow. Aranka’s photographs are created without any digital- or body-manipulation. In many images, dancers and circus performers seem to bend and writhe, their bodies mirrored on plexiglass. In searching out a clean surface, Aranka did not initially recognize the reflective effect that photographing on the material would create. A slightly imperfect shadow is rendered, appearing with both greater clarity and depth than the figure itself.

To meet openness of her subjects, Aranka also pursues the deep body consciousness they possess. Not only does she work with a contortionist in an attempt to release the “invisible points” where there is an absence of “body awareness,” she practices aerial tissu. Lavender colored, silk chords descend from the ceiling of her Chelsea studio.

For Aranka, corporeal form is one way of using the photographic medium to step into a spiritual reality. In capturing subjects whose bodies press the limits of physical human potential, the artist seeks to release an “alphabet” of the body’s geometries. She has begun to assemble these “letters” within kaleidoscopic mirrored forms, Yantras. In Buddhist and Hindu philosophy the Yantra is an instructional chart for the spiritual aspect of human experience, a visible portal to other forms of perception. The creative process is one of flow in which Aranka achieves what she hopes to offer. The aim being, “to trigger something in someone else, to remind them of something they may not remember,” she says.

Aranka was most captivated by Lucien Clergue’s perspective on the body—in particular his treatment of the feminine. After acquiring one of Clergue’s nudes, she was introduced to the artist. “The moment I met him it was like I was meeting someone from my tribe,” shares Aranka. From the immediate rapport, an intimacy grew that would last until Clergue’s death late in 2014. The artists discussed technical details, proportion and perspective and Aranka had the privilege of Clergue’s critique, but there was something more, an accord she likens to the “passing of a sacred flame.” At that, Aranka says, “Everything grew in me.”

Aranka Israni’s “Nudes” are on view at the Anne Clergue Galerie (12 Plan de la Cour, 13200 Arles-France) from 4 July to 22 August.

Images courtesy of Gigi Stoll