Scenes from an epic - a contemporary take on the Ramayana

A French-Sri Lankan artist’s debut solo exhibition is currently at Jhaveri Contemporary in Mumbai. 

Vasantha Yogananthan, Ravana Fighting Jatayu, 2018, Archival Inkjet Print on Canson Print Making Rag, 81 x 64 cm. Courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary.

Vasantha Yogananthan, Ravana Fighting Jatayu, 2018, Archival Inkjet Print on Canson Print Making Rag, 81 x 64 cm. Courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary.

Vasantha Yogananthan, Sea Monster, 2018, Archival Inkjet Print on Canson Print Making Rag, 81 x 64 cm. Courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary.

Vasantha Yogananthan, Sea Monster, 2018, Archival Inkjet Print on Canson Print Making Rag, 81 x 64 cm. Courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary.

Born in Grenoble, France, in 1985 to a Sri Lankan father and French mother, Vasantha Yogananthan first visited India when he was 28. He began to consider the connections between the complexity of everyday life and the Ramayana, one of epic scriptures of ancient India, which recounts the life of Rama, a prince of the Kosala Kingdom of the bronze age and the seventh avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu.

Vasantha Yogananthan, Secret Door, 2016, Archival Inkjet Print on Canson Print Making Rag, 81 x 64 cm. Courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary.

Vasantha Yogananthan, Secret Door, 2016, Archival Inkjet Print on Canson Print Making Rag, 81 x 64 cm. Courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary.

Vasantha Yogananthan, Longing For Love, 2018, Archival Inkjet Print on Canson Print Making Rag, 81 x 64 cm. Courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary.

Vasantha Yogananthan, Longing For Love, 2018, Archival Inkjet Print on Canson Print Making Rag, 81 x 64 cm. Courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary.

A photo series by Yogananthan recreates stories from the Ramayana with a contemporary twist, turning ordinary scenes across North and South India into mythological tales. They are currently on display in Mumbai, in the artist’s first solo exhibition. They are also compiled in seven photo books, each one dedicated to a different chapter of the epic Hindu text.

Vasantha Yogananthan, The Riders, 2017, Black and white C-print hand-painted by Jaykumar, 34 x 42 cm. Courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary.

Vasantha Yogananthan, The Riders, 2017, Black and white C-print hand-painted by Jaykumar, 34 x 42 cm. Courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary.

Vasantha Yogananthan, What A Princess Should Wear, 2013, Archival Inkjet Print on Canson Print Making Rag, 64 x 81 cm. Courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary.

Vasantha Yogananthan, What A Princess Should Wear, 2013, Archival Inkjet Print on Canson Print Making Rag, 64 x 81 cm. Courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary.

Just as the Ramayana’s parabolical characters are symbols of moral duty, Yogananthan wanted his photographs of everyday life to act as allegories for spiritual subjects.

One of the most famous stories of the Ramayana is the kidnapping of Rama’s wife Sita by the demon king Ravana, to the island of Lanka. Yogananthan’s work Sea Monster depicts the goddess Surasa who tried to block Rama from rescuing his beloved. In Longing for Love, we see a modern-day Sita attempting to escape the island.

Vasantha Yogananthan, Rama Combing His Hair, 2015, Archival Inkjet Print on Canson Print Making Rag, 81 x 64 cm. Courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary.

Vasantha Yogananthan, Rama Combing His Hair, 2015, Archival Inkjet Print on Canson Print Making Rag, 81 x 64 cm. Courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary.

Vasantha Yogananthan, The Crossing 3D, 2015, Archival Inkjet Print on Canson Print Making Rag, 81 x 64 cm. Courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary.

Vasantha Yogananthan, The Crossing 3D, 2015, Archival Inkjet Print on Canson Print Making Rag, 81 x 64 cm. Courtesy of Jhaveri Contemporary.

Yogananthan collaborated with Jaykumar Shankar, who specialises in hand-painting over photographs. With the resulting pastel tones of the images, the artists aim to distort the viewer’s perception by blurring the lines between photography and painting, as well as reality and mythology.


Olivia Burt