Maya Smira / Dancing Stillness

Maya Smira strides along the paths of photography and dance alike. Both offer her a gateway to learning and experiencing the world. She dances, practices, and teaches yoga. It was thus that she was first exposed to Indian philosophy, which explores the relationship between physical and mental movement; a practice of inner balance and stillness of the mind while moving.

Originally ritual, traditional Indian dance is meant to take the dancer and viewer on an aesthetic and spiritual experience of another reality, known as rasa. Its language consists of fixed postures and gestures, which have symbolic meaning, affecting the state of consciousness.

The exhibition is the result of a three-year journey, during which Smira alternated between photographing and being photographed; an onlooker on Indian dance, who practices and feels it in her own body. In the process, she became aware of the way in which focus and intention are essential to both photography and dance.

In the center of the mandala projected at the entrance, Smira is seen dressed in traditional Indian attire, in an iconic posture called Nataraja. It is a female version of the cosmic dance of the Hindu god Shiva, through which he creates and destroys the universe. Around the circle, Smira cyclically reproduces her own figure. She stages herself in a variety of postures, drawn from the repertoire of Indian dance, in the five traditional colors of the Buddhist mandala. The mandala, projected onto a canvas, makes Smira’s multiple appearances prance, uniting them into one circle, which rotates around itself.

In the video work Dance, Smira creates a new choreography based on close-ups of hand gestures (mudras), foot movements, and facial expressions. The gaze can move and linger in accordance with the various rhythms: from softness and slow flow to a fast rhythm of foot stamping and spinning. The composition gradually evolves to multiplication and repetition of the movements in a symmetric, geometric pattern.

The two works facing one another were photographed in India, in the temple of the goddess Devi in Goa and in Mysore Palace, both embedding tranquil movement. In the palace, Smira embodies a statue of an Indian dancer from the Museum collection. It is a posture that is typified by balance and inward drawing, refinement and majesty. The turquoise colors of the sari and the palace blend together to convey a sense of wholeness.

The flags fluttering in the wind, which the artist photographed at the temple, recall the existence of natural movement, which occurs by itself, effortlessly. A Buddhist story tells of two monks who were arguing at the sight of a flag flapping in the wind. One said that the flag was moving, while the other held that the wind was moving the flag. Seeing this, their master said: “It is neither the flag nor the wind but your mind that is moving.”

Shir Meller-Yamaguchi, curator

  • Maya Smira, Move (Dancing Mandala), Video Installation, 2019