Five Faces of Shiva is a brief history of the rise of the Hindu god lithographs. From the complicated backdrop of British colonization, which led to coded messages of rebellion hidden in the prints themselves, to rival presses outdoing one another to the point of ruin, to the dramatic stories of love and war depicted in the images, we will explore their deep history and religious symbolism. Interviews and on-site experiences with collectors, historians, artists, and devotees will shape our understanding of these astonishing images.
In the late 19th century, India experienced a mass media revolution. Lithography — a printing technique that allowed for highly detailed and affordable copies of images — allowed people throughout its many states, of all walks of life, to own their own direct connection to the gods and goddesses they loved. These prints were wildly popular and, at least according to one source, even radically altered Indian fashion.
In India today one sees god prints everywhere: at tiny tea stands, on taxi dashboards, tied to the handle bars of rickshaws and bicycles, as well as in all Hindu shops and homes. For believers, these are not just images of gods, they are gods! During puja (worship) the gods are invited to descend into their printed images and are treated as guests. Offerings of fruit, flowers, and sweets are placed before them, prayers are chanted to them, incense burned for them.
Mark Baron and Elise Boisanté, gallerists and collectors, have painstakingly amassed a large collection of early Hindu mythological prints. Mark and Elise are the preeminent collectors in the US, and have become experts over the course of their fifteen years of passion for these prints. The International Print Center hosted an exhibition of selected images from the collection in 2009, followed by the Davis Museum at Wellesley. Historian Richard H. Davis worked with Mark and Elise to collect many of the prints in a 2012 book, Gods in Print.
For more about Mark and Elise’s beautiful collection of prints, visit Om from India >
Director’s note: For years, I’d admired the beautiful images of Durga, Hanuman, and Krishna which adorned the walls of my beloved Chelsea yoga studio. When I saw an Om from India flyer on the community bulletin board one day, I knew I had to see the collection. I met Mark Baron and Elise Boisanté in August 2014, and spent a blissful afternoon at their home flipping through prints and hearing about their Indian travels and the symbolism in the images. The vibrant colors and dramatic stories stuck with me, and wouldn’t let go. I wanted to learn more about the prints, and to share them with everyone I could.
Every year, Mark and Elise travel to India to seek out these delicate objects of worship in old homes and crumbling piles in antique shops. While the primary focus of the film is not the process of collecting, journeying to India with Mark and Elise will allow us to put the history of the prints in the context of their original environment and will give a contemporary and active thread to wind through the film. We will see how god prints are still used in worship today, as they have been since the 1860s, and explore their deep meaning with a guru.