Brilliant as a Dark Cloud: The Goddess Kali

Maquoketa Art Experience
124 S. Main Street, Maquoketa, IA

Kali is the embodiment of time and the goddess of death and rebirth in Hindu theology. A terrifying manifestation of cosmic energy, Kali is sometimes regarded as the personification of divine destruction, and at other times considered a constant creator. Identifiable by her luminously dark blue or black skin and her exposed tongue dripping with blood, Kali is often depicted garlanded in skulls and clothed in a skirt composed of severed hands. Though formidable to behold, Kali is also the destroyer of fear. To contemplate images of Kali is to encounter the inevitability of death, and to find peace in the ceaseless cycle of life.

This small selection of works from the Indian folk art collection of Georgana Falb Foster illustrates the continual rebirth of images of the goddess herself. For centuries, inexpensive art works representing devi (female goddesses) were produced and distributed throughout India and Southeast Asia.  Advancements in printmaking technologies such as the introduction of lithography in the late nineteenth century precipitated the production of increasingly colorful and visually dense devotional objects. Printmaking workshops such as the Calcutta Art Studio paired detailed images with prayerful texts. The phrase “brilliant as a dark cloud” is a snippet of one such prayer dedicated to Kali, often included in early poster designs. Iconography and printmaking techniques continued to evolve over the subsequent century, resulting in the posters included in this exhibition. Collected in the 1980s, these mass-produced posters and calendars offer a snapshot of daily devotion and secular visual culture in India during the late twentieth century.

This exhibition was curated by Vero Rose Smith and organized by Legacies for Iowa: A University of Iowa Museum of Art Collections-Sharing Project, supported by the Matthew Bucksbaum Family.

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Unknown Indian artist

Poster featuring the Hindu goddess Kali standing on top of Shiva

, c. 1980
Print on plastic, 9 13/16 x 6 5/8 in.
From the collection of Georgana Falb Foster, 15.2001