Beyond the Iconic

By Elizabeth Rogers

Crossing cultures results in an expanded breadth of creative lexicons. Choices of theme and subject, locus solus, and palette proffer diverse pathways for expression of the changing environs, the familiar and the unknown landscapes. With shifting styles and perspective, the artist experiments and explores such varied forms. Ekaterina Abramova, a Russian artist residing in Goa, reflects these evolutions in her two separate series, one based in India and one derived from Russian icons. Such elements of emotions lie between the figurative and the abstract, with their own intellectualised and primal system of symbols, evolving into a purer form of personal vocabulary embodying a very different conception of art.

“The traveller has to knock at every alien door to come to his own, and one has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end.”  Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali (no.xiv)

Born in the Moscow region, Ekaterina’s father was an artist and woodcarver who initially imparted classical technique and foundation to his daughter. Thereafter she studied under renowned teachers in Russia, imbibing a love of beauty and nature. Later on, she completed a term on the artistry of theatre, a realm specially excelled in by Russians. One thinks of the influence which theatre design had upon the Himalayan landscapes of the Russian painter Nicholas Roerich. Coming to India caused her to ask new questions; to look at different elements of beings and the surroundings. Thus, she embarked upon the sketches and paintings which she designates as a portrait series of her ‘Indian family”. These works reflect the simplicity of their domestic world in the village in Arambol. Within the intimate at home environment, many of the figures are female, in states of activity and repose.  These works are completed in mixed media (including acrylics, oil paint, modelling pastes, collage, and felt-tip pens) on canvas which seems suited to the project – the subject and the clime first captured in sketches. Ekaterina draws inspiration from the traditional and the contemporary, just as her bodies of work span these periods.

More recently, she has returned to the Russian icon as a study of the painterly worlds she envisions and inhabits. Icon is a noun which is often mis-used and confused. In essence, the term is used within a broad context for an image, picture, or representation. Such representation stands for an object by signifying or representing it either concretely or by analogy. As a symbol that represents something else of greater significance through literal or figurative meaning. Many homes in Russia have icons hanging on the wall in the krasny ugol, the “red” or “beautiful” corner. Ekaterina’s “icons’ are quite abstract to varying degrees. There are images of a mother and child, of devotees and the celebrated ones, of nativity scenes, of natural elements with heavenly choirs. There are wavy lines, triangles, circles, and ovals like mandalas. This marriage of the figural and abstract echoes the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) who similarly moved beyond his homeland and fostered modern abstractionism. The roots of Kandinsky’s modernism lie more in the soul than in any scientific mood. For him, folk art with its romance and spiritual energy was a vital source, and inculcated his tenet of the ‘spirituality in art’ and the resonance of nature. Ekaterina’s abstracted iconic paintings are classic and, oh, so modern, at once quotidian and transfigured. Jacques Lacan (1901-1981), the French psychoanalyst and philosopher wrote that “Everything we are allowed to approach by way of reality remains rooted in fantasy.” (The Seminars of Jacques Lacan. Book XX, Encore, On Feminine Sexuality, The Limits of Love and Knowledge, 1972-1973. Ed. J-A Miller. Trans. B. Fink. New York: Norton, 1995)

In representing the real, in its direct portrayal of life and nature, as well as in its more symbolic state, Ekaterina balances these oscillating paradigms of visual art. (See Representing the Real by Ruth Rosen, SUNY Press, 2009) Her sojourns continue to unfold through her experiments and experiences, opening diverse windows into these such different sensorial worlds. Worlds blend in her unconscious, through palettes and a pair of hands.


Elizabeth Rogers is a graduate of Harvard University (B.A.), Institut d’Etudes Politiques (C.E.P.)and Institut des Civilisations et Langues Orientales (Matrise, Paris), Beijing and Fudan Universities (P.R.C.),Yale University (M.A. and M.F.A.) literature, and Buddhist studies, then worked in museums and institutions, including the Yenching Institute, Harvard University;  as the Assistant Director of the Museum at Japan Society (New York); World Monuments Fund (New York); as the Director of the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art (New York);  as a consultant to the China Institute (New York); a consultant to the Museum at Tibet House (New Delhi); and at the Centre for Trans-Himalayan Buddhism at the Asoka Mission (New Delhi).
Over the last number of years, she has worked on Indian and Pakistani art, focusing on the sacred in contemporary art, the intersections and bilateral tapestries of cultural iconography, and the reconsideration of the past within the realm of modern art.