Sir Mick Jagger has pride of place in Tantra exhibition

Sir Mick Jagger has a place in the British Museum’s new Tantra exhibition – but not thanks to his lothario reputation.

The Rolling Stone, 77, is represented in the form of an experimental art film.

He produced Tantra: Indian Rites Of Ecstasy, in the late Sixties and it will be among the first objects visitors to the exhibition will see.

Tantra is associated with sex and “free love” in the West, but the museum says the “radical philosophy” has been misunderstood with “salacious stereotypes”.

Still from Tantra: Indian Rites of Ecstasy, 1968, directed by Nik Douglas, co-produced by Sir Mick Jagger and Robert Fraser. Ajit Mookerjee, consultant.(Nicholas V Douglas / The Estate of Nicholas V Douglas)

Sir Mick’s film is “uniquely nuanced for the time because it isn’t pandering to the stereotypes of Tantra as a cult of ecstasy”, curator Imma Ramos said.

Shot in India in 1968, it features “visual symbols”, including deities and Tantric practitioners.

It will go on display, as a “modern response to Tantra”, alongside some of the earliest surviving Tantric manuscripts.

“It’s fascinating, very impressionistic, more of an art form,” Ramos said of the film.

“It is uniquely nuanced for the time because it isn’t pandering to the stereotypes of Tantra as a cult of ecstasy,” she told the PA news agency.

Sir Mick’s interest in “Tantric goddesses and Tantra” is also represented by the famous Rolling Stones red lips logo.

It was created after the band’s frontman asked designer John Pasche to create a logo, inspired by the star’s fascination with the Tantric goddess Kali.

Pasche’s design focused on the goddess’s protruding tongue, which is seen to suggest her “ravenous appetite on the battlefield”.

The end result, symbolising the  band’s rebellious, anti-establishment spirit as well as Jagger’s voluptuous mouth, was reproduced on the inner sleeve of the band’s Sticky Fingers album – which will be on show – and has endured to this day.

Ramos said that the misunderstanding of Tantra – famously associated with rock star Sting’s comments about seven-hour lovemaking – began early.

“When the earliest translations of Tantric texts into English were carried out in the 19th century, their contents were completely misunderstood,” she told PA.

“Tantric imagery, representations of Tantric gods and goddesses in sexual union, was misinterpreted by colonial officials and Christian missionaries.

“They didn’t recognise the philosophical underpinnings of that imagery.”

The association with sex burgeoned in the 1960s.

It was seen as “representing a ‘free love’ moment that could challenge repressive attitudes to sexuality but it’s a bit reductive. It’s not recognising the true meaning of Tantra”, Ramos said.

The exhibition features historical masterpieces of sculpture, painting, prints and ritual objects from India, Nepal, Tibet and Japan and images of deities in sexual union.

“We’re really clear about how to read those objects, how to decode them, with the erotic material – they can be read literally as well as symbolically,” Ramos said.

Kali striding over Shiva, to be shown at Tantra: Enlightenment To Revolution
Kali striding over Shiva, to be shown at Tantra: Enlightenment To Revolution (PA)

They also embody “wisdom and compassion” to be “internalised in the body”, she said, adding: “You can understand why that material might have been misunderstood by missionaries and colonials.”

The British Museum has reopened after 163 days of closed doors, the longest peacetime closure in its 261-year history.

Visits to the museum will need to be pre-booked and a one-way route will be installed around some of its galleries.

Tantra: Enlightenment To Revolution, supported by the Bagri Foundation, runs from September 24 to January 24 2021. 

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