Modern and Contemporary Art from India
February 25, 2011 through September 4, 2011, San Jose Museum of Art
  NETI, NETI: THE DOCTRINE OF THE FOREST (Cuckoonebulopolis), 2009
Oil on canvas
71 x 47 inches
Private collection
Photo: Courtesy Frey Norris Gallery, San Francisco

Surendran Nair
Born 1956, Onkoor, Kerala, India
Lives and works in Vadodara (formerly Baroda), India

Surendran Nair consistently finds inspiration in literature. He conceived of an imaginary metropolis of birds, called “Cuckoonebulopolis,” in response to The Birds, written by Greek playwright Aristophanes in the fifth century BCE. 1 “The Doctrine of the Forest” is one of the subthemes within this fantasy realm. This painting from the series features a Kathalkali dancer, who performs a ritualized dance drama typical of Kerala, India. A small masked figure at his side holds the iconic three-pronged trident of Shiva, Hindu Lord of Destruction. The main figure is adorned with symbolic attributes: a nose bag (variation of a neti pot, which is used for cleaning nasal passages) and an arm whose blue color indicates it belongs to a deity. In addition, the words neti neti describe a negation: not this, but not that either. This concept refers to the nature of Brahmin, the Hindu Supreme Being.

1 Qamar Adamjee, “Neti Neti” Neti Neti: Surendran Nair (San Francisco: Frey Norris, 2010), n.p.