A Short Walk in the Hindu Sukh

Wesley John Fourie AZIMVTHWesley John Fourie
New Zealand

“The area the (AZIMVTH) residency is located in is really a great asset.”
“Excellent simple food.”

Wesley is a visual artist and for over three years works with the Milford Track, a UNESCO heritage site, in New Zealand. Since 1908, it has been labelled as ‘the finest walk in the world’. To be based at the track is a humbling experience – food and supplies are dropped and waste picked up by helicopters. Communication is by satellite phone. Wesley’s grandmother is a pastor for several decades and spends time between Germany and South Africa where he was born. While making art, Wesley likes to listen to Latin choirs.

Two of his colleagues who work with him at the Milford Track in New Zealand also visited him at AZIMVTH Ashram in Haridwar during his residency. He took them to a ritual dip in the Ganges.

Shown below is an image which is edited screen-grab from a video titled ‘The Milford Track’ by Graham Teena Paul. The video can also be seen below.

WJF Milford Track New Zealand - screen grab

Art made before coming to AZIMVTH

Two examples of art made before coming to AZIMVTH Ashram, Haridwar residency are given below. (Image to the left: All the trees of the Forest Shall Clap Their Hands’, acrylic and glitter on canvas 186cm x 186 cm.)WJF collage 2 artsLearnings at AZIMVTH 

Wesley trained in Yoga and meditation at AZIMVTH Ashram, Haridwar, India where he stayed for over a month’s time. He participated enthusiastically with the long morning sessions. He particularly focused upon the sub-session ‘My Green Picture’ which is an innovative cooling-down technique devised at AZIMVTH. He would typically spend his pre-lunch morning time at the ghat of the Ganges about a hundred metres away from AZIMVTH. He joined the guided and curated 2 hour long walks in the evenings / nights that were also opportunities to indulge in a variety of discussions on spirituality and life.

Wesley also learnt various mantras. Having a knack for languages, he understood and memorised an array of Sanskrit expressions. By the time he left AZIMVTH, he was able to converse in Hindi language and write poetry in Hindi, using English alphabets.

At AZIMVTH, Wesley was interested in exploring the relationship between aesthetic form and function within his work. During an exhibition for the Dunedin Fringe Festival he had covered a statue with a lot of scarves and blankets, which over time began to peel away from the statue, and would often be seen being utilized by the homeless of Dunedin city as sleeping mats, blankets, or scarves. It was a sensational experience for him to see his work transcend its original intended purpose and context.

Projects at AZIMVTH

Wesley completed several artistic projects at AZIMVTH.

A. My Green Picture

WJF My Green Picture - 1 large - work in progressWesley made a series of art-works at AZIMVTH. ‘My Green Picture’ is the name for the penultimate sub-session during the morning meditations at AZIMVTH. In this part, participants conjure up a happy memory of a real life experience of being amidst green flora. Through a process involving part memoir-writing and part visualising, participants aim to achieve a sense of Nirvana in short time. In his own words “The drawings pertain to my green space, a place in my mind I went to post yoga, to help cool down the body and relax to begin the meditation and chanting session that followed. This green space project was also written down, to help “zoom in” on the picture in my mind, a practice taught here at AZIMVTH…”

A.1 My Green Picture – visual art, set of 8 smallWJF My Green Picture - small - collage of 8A.2 My Green Picture – visual art, set of 4 medium

WJF My Green Picture - medium - set of fourA.3 My Green Picture – visual art, 1 large

This is a work-in-progress, shown higher up on the page.

B. Knitting 

Wesley is proficient with various kinds of knitting techniques.

 

B.1 “From Across a Body of Water”

Wesley started knitting (with needles) an artwork “From Across a Body of Water” in New Zealand using local wool. He bought more wool and yarn in Haridwar where it is sold round the year. He continued knitting this piece. It will be completed after reaching back to New Zealand.

WJF From Across a Body of Water - knitting piece - view 1

B.2 Arm-knitting

Arm-knitting technique uses very thick yarn and the 2 arms of a person (instead of 2 knitting needles) to knit items like Yoga-mats.

WJF - Betrothal - arm knitting piece 2 view 1
‘Betrothal’ displayed with 50 year old wood-carving

For this project, Wesley used 5 ‘dupatta’ or stoles, a long flowing scarf used by Indian women to compliment 2 piece dresses known as Salwar-kameej. Each dupatta was cut in 4 strips length-wise. These 20 cut-dupattas were tied together to make a long yarn or rope. And that was used as the knitting yarn.

The end product can be used as a Yoga-mat, a wall-hanging, or a curtain.

C. ‘Jhabla’ Haute Couture WJF Jhabla couture - kurta

Wesley created a set of eight garments in couture style. The range was named ‘Jhabla’. Jhabla is a colloquial term denoting loose fitting garments for children and the design is independent of gender.

For the first piece, special hand made fabric having yarn that was also hand-spun was used. The fabric length was coloured with local herbs like turmeric, henna, ginger, etc. Although not a trained designer, Wesley picked up well and chalked out his own designs on the fabrics. Two local designers worked with him to create the range.

WJF Jhabla Haute Couture - plansD. A Short Walk in the Hindu Sukh – memoirs & poetry

Eric Newby - Slowly Down the Ganges - 1The title of this project is a play with the book ‘A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush’ by Eric Newby. This book was part of the curated set of books that were planned for Wesley’s residency at AZIMVTH. The author, before embarking on the expedition that is described in the book, had tried his hand at haute couture. Further, Wesley had already read ‘Slowly Down the Ganges’ by the same author.

Newby writes, “We had arrived at Hardwar from Delhi, at half past six the previous morning when it was still dark. We were extremely cold – the train had been unheated and the window had remained open despite our efforts to close it. With a retinue of porters that we were already beginning to regard as inevitable, we moved off towards the waiting-room where we were to meet an agent from Shell who had been allocated the unenviable task of helping us to find a boat capable of taking us down twelve hundred miles of the Ganges to the sea.”

Wesley’s background of Milford Track and his keen language skills (he was offered a writing scholarship at school) made him an ideal candidate for writing creatively his memoirs on Haridwar.

D.1 Har ki Paidi

Excerpt from Wesley’s writings, “…There is music playing, and a sadhu blasting on a WJF From Across a Body of Water - knitting piece - view 2conch shell, and a bell is clanging, and the sounds of those surrounding me praying and offering puja to the river all seem to bleed together against the obnoxiously loud horns of the traffic surrounding the ghat.

I am somewhere in here.

Trying to keep my legs standing straight as the swarms of devotees hurry towards the river praying in a trance like state surround me and push me down towards the river in their own quest to reach it.

WJF From Across a Body of Water - knitting piece - view 3Sweat clings to my forehead, rolling into my eyes and down my cheeks, as well as the air blowing off the river and the water splashed about by bathers all blend together to bind me in a cloud of mugginess surrounding me, The air is so thick you can chew it. I watch the bathers as they pray in a trance, I too overwhelmed by the surroundings and in a state of trance myself, my brain working in overload as it tries to process all the information at once. The air is perfumed with the odour of thousands of devotees sweat, smoke from the fires of offerings, food being cooked, urine, cow dung, and the spices being sold beyond the ghats in the bazaar above…”

…..

“It is perhaps the energy of Vishnu himself, left by the imprint of his foot, that scares me, perhaps it is the out in the open nature of several thousand pilgrims performing rituals that are older than recorded time, or perhaps it is my ego, using the intensity of energy felt here to ward me away from a spiritual path. But whatever holds me back, as peculiar as it is, is dwarfed by the severity of the Shakti of this sacred swathe of land known as Har-ki Paidi.”

D.2 My Green Picture

Through a systematic process, Wesley was asked, each morning, to think about a past experience of being one with nature.

Excerpts from Wesley’s writings –

“I continue along the platform, through a porous landscape with earth of orange, yellow and green sponges. It has rained today, and the orange patches of moss transcend a fluorescent neon glow, from which stands of manuka in bloom sprout.

White flowers perched atop the dark leaves, like doves rising from a plume of black smoke. Above them in line stands the silver beech, stunted from growth by the influx of water surrounding the swamp. I am completely surrounded my mountains, a golden cage, in front of me lies mount sentinel, to my immediate right Mount Anau, to which beyond lies the Glade Burn, and behind me sits Dore Pass. I am completely alone here. Besides the all encompassing sound of water, all that I can hear is birdlife, and the intermittent buzz of sand flies.”

D.3 Poetry

Wesley wrote several poems during his residency at AZIMVTH in Haridwar, India. Two examples are given below.

WJF Jhabla Haute Couture - colouringGanga Mata

Kuch toh pyaar jaisa mere mere man me gungunata hai,
jaise khilkhilati hui nadi patthar ko,
ek bhavishya, ek chumban, ek vaada, ek dua.

A pursuit of the breath of God

If god dwells within me,
She lies deep down dormant,
Under a pile of earth and stone.

Sometimes I feel her breathing,
And the air is sweet and hot,
And flowers bloom all around.

But then she goes to hiding,
And I am left alone again,
With only the scent of her breath
In my throat,
And I’m empty again and weeping.

Were I get down on my knees,
Five times a day,
Would she offer herself completely?
Or tythe ten percent or my earnings,
Would you keep me warm at night?
Or traverse the Sapta puri,
A noble heavenly yatra,
Would she send me to moksha?
I pray for an understanding,
Deeper understanding,
To a seemingly unanswerable question,
To be bathed in a pool of soft light,
All golden and shining and warm.
I pray a song for tomorrows sun,
And for the sweet breathe,
Of the mother,
To return.

Impact and Next Levels

There could be several follow-ups.

  • Tutorials for arm-knitting will be made and uploaded online so that more persons in Haridwar / elsewhere can learn.
  • My Green Picture – completing the large artwork
  • “From Across a Body of Water” – completion and interpretation of the ongoing knitting art work as a ‘visual-log’ of the residency and India experience.
  • Write more poetry and share with interested parties in New Zealand.
  • Test-launch at a retail store of the Jhabla haute couture.

“(At the studios) there are a lot of mediums you can play with…Our daily walks have been really good.”