Veteran artist K.S. Radhakrishnan breathes life into bronze. For the first time, his sculptures and his magnum opus installation ‘The Liminal Space' are on display in Kerala.
It was the dream of A. Ramachandran, one of the country's most celebrated artists, to hold his retrospective show at the Kanakakkunnu Palace in Thiruvananthapuram, his home town. Although, the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, did take up significant initiatives with the Government of Kerala to bring Ramachandran's paintings and sculptures to the city, even offering to meet its high insurance costs, the project did not materialise.
And now, it is next generation artist and sculptor K.S. Radhakrishnan who has pulled off a similar, seemingly impossible feat. He has exhibited at the Palace, his bronze sculptures along with his magnum opus, ‘The Liminal Space,' a sculptural installation.
As one of the largest bronze sculpture collectives, there were enough difficulties faced in transporting ‘The Liminal Space' from Delhi as it is. Executed in 2008, it was first displayed at the Birla Academy of Art and Culture, Kolkata and then at the Lalitkala Akademi Gallery, New Delhi in 2009.
A figurative sculptor in the complete sense, Radhakrishnan's source of creativity is from Kalabhavan in Santhiniketan. A student of the legendary sculptor and teacher Ram Kinkar Baij, Radhakrishnan inherited the mission and spirit of image-making from his guru.
Having completed his masters in sculpture from Kalabhavan, the artist moved to Delhi in the mid 1980s, and from 1989 he started his life as a freelance sculptor – an adventurous decision in those days. Emerging as a perfectionist of the medium and material, Radhakrishnan recharged the age-old sculptural process with a new vision and conceptual discourse, which made him one of the most accomplished sculptors of contemporary India with international credentials (though Radhakrishnan is not comfortable with the word ‘international,' which these days is used to qualify anything).
The Thiruvananthapuram show, which concludes on April 24, is not as massive as the one he had at Kolkata. Because of the lack of space and unavailability of spot-focus lights, Radhakrishnan has designed the show according to the available space.
“In the end, I have to display it according to the space I get. If there is no focus light I see it with natural light pouring in from side windows and then let it go with the interior architecture of the Palace,” says Radhakrishnan.
This kind of flexibility is always there in his philosophy of life. This flexibility is also a part of the major objective, which he planned to achieve. In terms of such objectives, Radhakrishnan is also very stubborn.
It could be said that it is this blend of stubbornness and flexibility that made ‘The Liminal Space.'
After his two successful shows and the release of a book written by art historian R. Sivakumar, Radhakrishnan received an invitation to make a monumental outdoor sculpture for a corporate house.
After long research and study the artist thus planned ‘The Liminal Space' as a two-km-long sculpture that had a ramp with 12-feet-high human figures captured in movement. Cafes, parks, and even parking areas were planned around the sculpture. The corporate house had to withdraw from the project, but Radhakrishnan continued with it as he had already started making small sculptures of the ramp and eventually funded the project himself.
Musui, the muse
As regards the form and content of the sculpture, we come across the figure of Musui, and later his counterpart Maiya, who keeps appearing in all of Radhakrishnan's sculptures. Of all the hundreds of figures Radhakrishnan cast in bronze, this single image of an innocent youth emerges as a kind of archaic type. This image of human compassion is of a model called Musui of Santhal origin whom he had met while at Kalabhavan. Musui later becomes the ideal image of ‘the human' in Radhakrishnan's sculptures, which re-incarnates into several forms; Musui becomes Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Nataraja, Christ, Buddha, Santhal and at times an ordinary man holding a palm leaf or a man walking on the streets. By casting Musui into the historical/cultural and the non-historical/non-cultural, Radhakrishnan opens multiple levels of discourse to the viewer.
Alongside the cultural travel with Musui, Radhakrishnan also travels with the sculptural traditions created by modern maestros. Turning away from classical modelling, Radhakrishnan prefers a quasi-folk anatomy with which he could handle the form with greater flexibility. His figures move, play, fall, and dance in the long journey of life like in a ‘liminal' space where there is no end or beginning.
Epic Indian form
The concept of the particular and universal, and the multiplicity of grand narratives appearing in ‘The Liminal Space' coupled with diverse sculptural expressions in relief together with independent sculptures of horizontal and vertical movements, establish the concept of the Indian epic form. The viewing process is also important, as ‘The Liminal Space' demands to be viewed from various levels, heights, angles and distances. Our views that start from ground level encounter different images.
As Sivakumar describes it: “From a height the figures look like objects moving on a conveyor belt; from closer, the image is that of a milling crowd, and from close proximity our frame of vision equates it with a city square with people moving in all directions. If the effect is one of chaos from one distance, it is the choreographed order from the other.”
It is interesting that the exhibition has been organised by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC). It is also very important that a brilliantly designed bilingual book on Radhakrishnan has also been published with comments by Sivakumar and Johny M.L. Perhaps this is the first of its kind that the KTDC is launching (quite in the right direction) for cultural tourism.