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The Bard in Acrylic by Shweta Rao Garg

"I was inspired to portray the Bard on canvas after engaging with Shakespeare for years. Shakespeare is as profound as he is playful, and this is exactly what I have tried to capture. The paintings in this series are not mere illustrations of the Bard’s universe, but are interpretations that are fully self-aware and celebratory of the time and space between the artist and the Bard. The artworks are replete with postcolonial pop-cultural references. While references to Shakespeare’s work makes for an enriched viewing, this series can also be viewed as a portrayal of my world view as an Indian woman.

The Bard in Acrylic is my humble love offering to literature and art."

-Shweta Rao Garg

“Three Sisters”

Act 4, Scene 1 , Macbeth

The three sisters sense Macbeth’s arrival at their cave to ask for their help. Unlike elsewhere, in this painting, the sisters are depicted as wise women, as seers who brought down a kingdom without as much as batting an eyelid. They are not shown as wicked or evil. Wasn’t it Macbeth who willingly chose his path?

This painting is inspired by Amrita Shergil’s Three Sisters.

"To be or not to be…"

Act 3, Scene 1 , The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

This painting is a play on the most profound but clichéd line in the entire world of literature and a spoof of the most iconic pose of Hamlet with Yorrick’s skull. A man with broccoli in one hand, and a burger in another has to make a difficult choice. Well, not as difficult as choosing between life and death like Hamlet. But each of our conflicts is potent enough to rip us apart.

Choose life. Always.

“Fools may not speak wisely what wise men do foolishly”

Act 1, Scene 2, As You Like it

Touchstone, the clown, complains to the princess of the regime that it is sad that he cannot make fun of the authority anymore. Can it get any more real than in our times? This painting shows a woman who seems comfortable with the bandages plastered on her mouth. Perhaps we are more complicit with the power structures than we would like to believe.

Speak up now, will ya?

“The Perfumes of Arabia” / “All the Perfumes of Arabia will Not Sweeten This Little Hand”

Act 5, Scene 1, Macbeth

The feisty Lady Macbeth got all that she wanted; the only problem was her guilt. The painting is a pretty picture of her dressing table, with fancy perfume bottles. The figurine of Auguste Rodin’s Crouching Woman on the attar box aptly represents Lady Macbeth’s state of mind. Teal and turquoise are used to indicate healing.

"Bottom" / “What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?”

Act 3, Scene 1, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The uncouth mechanic Bottom is “translated” with a donkey’s head by the mischievous fairy Puck. The fairy queen Titania, who is under the influence of a spell, falls in love with him. This painting is a tribute to the maddening spell of love. Donkey-head may seem like an angel from heaven if you are in love.

“Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath”

Act 2, Scene 7, The Merchant of Venice

Portia’s father devised an ingenious test of the three boxes - gold, silver and lead, to make sure his daughter marries the best suitor. Bassanio, as all true lovers are, in stories at least, chooses the box made of lead and is not deterred by the warning that he has to stake all that he has. He is rewarded for his courage as he is united with the love of his life.

Which box would you choose?

“Falstaff” / “This chair shall be my state, … and this cushion my crown”

Act 2, Scene 4, Henry IV, Part 1

Falstaff, a very likeable thug, impersonates the reigning king Henry IV at the behest of the Prince of Wales, Hal at a lowly cavern. He puts a cushion on his head, assumes the chair as his throne to enact as a king. In the painting, Falstaff has a popular fast food tub as his crown. This Falstaff knows that the customer is the king. This is a reflection on our culture which fattens first and then shames the fat.

Celebrate your body, you are beautiful!

“The Poet” / “The lunatic, the lover and the poet are of imagination all compact”

Act 5, Scene 1, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Duke of Athens says this in response to the strange magical tale that the lovers tell him. Shakespeare believed that lovers, lunatics and poets are strongly swayed by the power of imagination. The poet creates a world with his words. His heart is like his cigarette, burning constantly – and oh, how glorious is the light. Mauve represents unbridled creative energy.

This painting is inspired by the great mystic poet H. S. Shiva Prakash.

"Helena"/ "All’s well that ends well"

Act 4, Scene 4, All’s Well That Ends Well

Helena’s plot to procure the ring from Bertram, her reluctant and disloyal husband is successful. The End matters more than the Means, when you are in love. In the backdrop is, of course, the heart shaped balloon as a tribute to Bansky and the biggest ‘All’s well that ends’ well story in the art-world.

“Ariel” / “Where the Bee Sucks, There Suck I:In a Cowslip’s Bell I Lie”

Act 5, Scene 1, The Tempest

Ariel, the chirpy spirit, plans for the days when s/he will be free from Prospero’s bondage. Imagine soft winter sun, green foliage and you lying on the grass.

When was the last time you slept without any concern?


About the Artist :

Shweta Rao Garg is an artist, writer, and academic based in Ahmedabad. A former Fulbright scholar and recipient of Sahitya Akademi Translation prize, Shweta perceives her art as a culmination of her creative and critical faculties.

She has had two solo exhibitions of paintings till date. The first was a series based on Shakespeare’s works, The Bard in Acrylic in 2018 and another series was based on everyday lives of Indian women, Of Goddesses and Women in 2019. The questions of identity, space, history, and ordinary lives inform her work. Her standpoint as a feminist, and as a gender studies scholar, shapes her subject matter and forms.


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