As part of Queens College’s Year of India, it is looking at the meaning of namaste through a very wide lens.
“It’s a character study of the inner life of the person and the respect for the whole living world,” curator Suzanna Simor said.
Namaste can mean a lot of different things. It’s a traditional greeting used in India, but it’s not just a “hello.” Namaste when translated from ancient Sanskrit gives thanks for all living and nonliving things — for all people, nature and self.
The works in the “Friendly Gestures: Namaste,” an exhibit at the college, range from a sculpture of a bridge to a video of someone walking through the woods, to leaves painted directly on the wall, a painting that looks like a tapestry and many others.
Some pieces connect to Indian culture while others take a broader look at the meaning behind namaste and celebrate self-identity and interpersonal connections.
For the exhibit, artist Xico Greenwald spent several days painting a plant directly on the wall, which he named, simply enough, “Plant.”
The painting doesn’t have a lot of detail — just a sketch, made with all the same muted green, of a couple of leaves and a stem. In places it’s possible to see where parts were erased.
“I ... believe that the power of painting comes from a connection to the pulse of life, not from a clever concept, and working from still lifes offers me that,” Greenwald said in an artist’s statement. “As I work, a range of feelings and memories seem to emanate from the still life and I strive to communicate those sensations in my work.”
Greenwald brought his young daughter to college while he worked on the installation, Simor said, which she felt was in keeping with the idea of namaste.
Rikki Asher, a Queens College faculty member, travels to India often. During one of her trips she made the pilgrimage to the Bodhi tree where Buddha is said to have reached enlightenment.
While there she painted the fallen heart-shaped leaves in pastel purples and greens and sparkly silvers and golds. Asher mounted these quick artworks on small cards, which she handed out to others.
“It was a nonverbal gesture of peace, connectivity and compassion of the moment,” Asher said in her artist’s statement.
A few of these works are displayed at the gallery.
Mary DeVincentis’ “Tara,” which shows someone gently tugging on a vine connected to a seemingly floating hibiscus, looks at nature as well as traditional Indian art with the golden outlines of the hand and a patterned background that evokes traditional Indian motifs.The position of the fingers look to be in a mudra hand position.
(Mudras are hand gestures in Hindu and Buddhist teachings often used in yoga to convey certain meanings.)
Theresa DeSalvio takes a much less literal look at the word namaste, but for the curators, her oil painting of a strong woman with blue hair and unwavering eyes, “Wonders,” conveys feelings of self-love and confidence.
“She’s very strong, but although you don’t see the outside world there is a connection to it,” Simor said.
Some of the more unusual pieces in the show are Jeanne Wilkinson’s “Mushroom House,” a sculpture with Barbie and Ken dolls inside a cave-like dwelling, and Andy Slemenda’s “Likewise Painting” a swirl of pastel-colored paints on Styrofoam.
Both show a connection to the outside world as well as making some unique (and pretty to some) images out of the simplest of materials. They are also examples of materialism and a statement on detriments to the environment — two corrosives to the namaste values.
“Namaste is about respect for the whole world,” Simor said.
When: through June 27, hours vary
Where: Rosenthal Library Art Center at Queens College, 65-30 Kissena Blvd., Flushing