art world

Artist Maya Burman’s psychedelic paintings of children reflect the joys of being alive

The Paris-based artist’s latest exhibition, Joie De Vivre, is an exercise in mixing together the fantastical and real.

“It’s not like I have made it my business to draw happiness,” said artist Maya Burman. “I don’t have a specific theme in mind when I paint, but I have no personal reasons to be cynical and I have been told that people do tend to see a certain joy in my works.”

The 46-year-old artist was standing at the Gallerie Ganesha in Delhi surrounded by her works. The title of Burman’s exhibition, currently on display at Triveni Kala Sangam, reflects the mood of her works – Joie De Vivre, or the joy of living.

Most of Burman’s works depict pastoral scenes dominated by trees and figures of children, regular and miniature with a fantasy element. “But it’s not like I’m trying to draw fairy tales,” she clarified.

“I’m not a naive person,” she said. “I don’t expect humanity to become a Garden of Eden. And I find it is important and very difficult to bring the feeling of joy to people. And perhaps, even to myself first. My painting is not contemplative, neither meditative. There are a lot of dynamics to it.”

Magical Dream, by Maya Burman.
Magical Dream, by Maya Burman.

The Paris-based artist has never had any formal training in art but growing up as the daughter of acclaimed artist Sakti Burman and Maite Delteil was training of a kind. “I was a rebel, you see,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes. When it came to a formal education, Burman chose architecture which had an element of art, but was disappointed by the logistical constraints of budgets, where the toilets would go and other sundry details. “I had my parents to give me direction,” said Burman. “It was an informal training with dialogue more than a technical approach. We discussed more about what is painting and why one should paint. But it was 24/7 training. They didn’t show me the technical aspects. As it is, we don’t have any similarity in our techniques. It was more a question of observation, and learning from observation.”

Garden of Profusion, by Maya Burman.
Garden of Profusion, by Maya Burman.

However, Burman’s training in architecture shows everywhere on her canvas. It exists in her approach to how she composes a painting, the process similar to constructing a building. It can also be seen in how she balances her frame. In her work titled Carpet of Flowers, the frame is balanced on each side. “To me, it wouldn’t look right if there was some empty space on the left side of the frame while there were design elements on the right,” she said.

Carpet of Flowers, by Maya Burman.
Carpet of Flowers, by Maya Burman.

According to Burman, France influences her work in many ways. “I work with a lot of detail and pattern and that can be linked to Indian miniatures,” she said. “I think I’m curious. I like to be surprised by unexpected things. All those experiences are getting melted in my work. My work is like a theatre, with a lot of characters moving everywhere. I also see my work as journey of life, where nothing is static, hence there is no central figure, all details are important in their own way.”

Consequently, her works often have a tapestry like effect with heavy patterning that is reminiscent of the French art nouveau tradition of geometric and floral work, along with elements of European architecture that she sees around her while travelling.

Picnic By The Lake, by Maya Burman.
Picnic By The Lake, by Maya Burman.

Her works boast mythical and folk imagery, but one will never see Indian motifs in her works stemming from her ancestry. “My cousin, artist Jayasri Burman, puts mythology in her works, but I’m not interested in those themes,” said Burman. “I paint what I know. My works are figurative and you can put your own imagination at work. It is your feeling that will be working when you look at the painting. As far as the feeling of joy in my painting goes, it might be because of the colours and the fact that the faces aren’t contorted, for example, in the German expressionist way.”

Tree of Life, by Maya Burman.
Tree of Life, by Maya Burman.

In one of her paintings, Nights and Days, the everyday cycle of wakefulness and sleep is represented in a circular image. This simple act of life radiates from a centre of merrymaking, with children playing with each other, which seems to be the central theme of many of Burman’s works. In some, the children play in paper boats, some pick flowers, some put together a puzzle made using pebbles and all look like they are a party of some idyllic wonderland.

“It’s not a cold allegorical image of joie de vivre,” said Burman. “I try to show the small joys that we all have in everyday life.”

Nights and Days, by Maya Burman.
Nights and Days, by Maya Burman.

Joie De Vivre is on at the Shridharani Gallery, Triveni Kala Sangam, Delhi, till November 13 and continues at Gallerie Ganesha, Delhi, from November 16 to December 7.

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German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

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Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.