Curation: Celebrating 120 years of Rukmini Devi Arundale at Kalakshetra

“Art is life,” proclaimed Rukmini Devi Arundale, a legendary dancer who redefined Bharatanatyam. When Kalakshetra approached me to curate an exhibit of her sarees for her 120th birth anniversary, it was an instant yes. It would be my first curatorial project, and a crash course into the world of this artistic giant.

While I knew of Rukmini Devi, this deep dive revealed an artist who breathed and lived art. From dance to animal welfare, everything she touched became a quest for a higher self through artistic expression. Her story is well-documented, but it was her own words that truly resonated:

“Art is life. It is character. People think of art as if it were something far away from themselves. You may think of me as a dancer, an artist, but are you not going to be artist also? Have you not some art in you? My idea is that everyone is an artist, for everyone responds to beauty. Some people may paint pictures but when you are in the store and say, “Oh, what a nice sari that is,” are you not responding to beauty? When you pick up a fountain pen and say, “I like this fountain pen”, have you not automatically made your choice because you responded to beauty? We must help that desire to unfold in our pupils, so that with it may come good taste.

~ Rukmini Devi Arundale, published in ‘Some selected speeches & writings of Rukmini Devi Arundale’

Inspired by her philosophy, I sought guidance from Mrs. Gowri Ramnarayan, a journalist, theatre director, and former student of Rukmini Devi. She shared captivating anecdotes, revealing how Rukmini Devi would always have her unique imagination shine through. When it came to costumes, she meticulously ensured the sarees’ colours played perfectly under stage lights and with her movements. This dedication became the exhibit’s core concept.

The iconic Rukmini Arangam stage was transformed, where the sarees themselves took center stage. Specially designed metal stands were not only functional but also reusable for future displays, showcased these exquisite textiles.

The exhibit became a stunning collage of her sarees, displayed alongside powerful quotes that illuminated her life’s philosophy. For the background music to I wanted to recreate the atmosphere of the Kalakshetra weaving centre, the rhythms of the loom sound like a performance. I took recordings of the actual looms and Hamsini Balasubramanian carefully designed it into this beautiful piece mixing it with the sounds of classical instruments like the tanpura and the tabla. Rukmini Devi’s belief in the ‘Spirit of Art’ resonated throughout the exhibit, as visitors witnessed the art woven into every thread.

She believed art was in everyone and it existed everywhere. One must look for that beauty in their life to be elevated by it. Curating this exhibit wasn’t just a professional pursuit; it became a personal exploration. She made me look at my own life, my thoughts, my feelings and made me ponder – what is it to live artistically? How can I inculcate that grace and beauty into my everyday life? How should we see the art in everyone and everything?

Rukmini Devi and her words came into my life as a spiritual guide at a time when I most needed it.

Back to Top