Mini Sivakumar's images, devoid of feminist clichés, were celebratory and intuitive.
Gathering words to write on artist Mini Sivakumar, whose life ended like a whisper on September 5, is like wandering in a passage that leads nowhere. Although she arrived very late on the art scene (at the age of 38), Mini generated great expectations in art circles with her works of innate sensibility.
A bio-scientist, Mini appeared on the art scene in 2001, with a solo show at Nandan, Kalabhavan, and then at the Art Heritage, New Delhi. From then on Mini did not go back to the world of science.
In another context it might not be a surprising decision as she was living in the midst of artists. Married to R. Sivakumar, eminent art historian and teacher at Kalabhavan of Viswabharathi University, Mini left Kerala for Santhinikethan, to live in the larger world of an art centre where the memory of great Indian masters are still alive.
Living with art
Living within the discourses of art, Mini could assimilate the environment created by Somanath Hore, K.G. Subramanian, A. Ramachandran, Jogen Chowdhary..., only to name a few. The decision to become a full-time painter should have been a slow process.
Untrained or self-trained artists explore distant shores of vision, unseen by others. Like Rabindranath Tagore, they create images that are difficult to be interpreted and their images wander around a personal world of poeticism. But there are self-trained artists like Bhupen Khakkhar or Sudhir Patwardhan demanding detailed discussions and interpretations. Mini, at her own level, balanced both by holding in treatment and by subtly inviting cerebral discourse.
A natural question that arises here is why did Mini not undergo academic training at Santhinikethan itself. Says Sivakumar: “In fact, she wanted to; it was her nature to learn everything academically, like she studied science. But somehow it didn't take place. My colleague Deepankar Bhattacharjee did encourage her to continue painting the way she painted. And when K.G. Subramanian saw her works he said, ‘you don't have to have academic study, you do better than academically trained persons.' Jogen Chowdhary and many of our Santhinikethan friends liked her works and finally she discarded the idea of academic training. She had strong admiration for the Realists, and French realistic literature.”
Mini started exhibiting her works at a time when contemporary Indian art was booming with large projects and every exhibition was a demonstration of plentitude in volume and scale.
Installations, video art, Photoshop-digital art, and many alternate media opened a luxurious world of visual production for the untrained artist. Mini preferred the humble format of painting with water colour or acrylic. With intimate touches of the brush, she wove her colours like a weaver weaving intricate yarns.
Her 10-year journey with the brush touched upon unseen spaces and at times the images carried intuitive meanings along with a cerebral articulation of myths, archetypes and popular visual culture devoid of feminist clichés.
There is a celebration of life, of flowering plants, flying birds around and beyond the image of the girl with a flower in the last painting which Mini would probably have completed if she had been granted another five days.
Mini's departure was not unexpected after she had developed secondaries a few months ago.
Though short lived was her career as a painter, she leaves behind for us a fabulous world of observation, experience and the being of a woman in this world, like her last painting.
(The author is Principal of the College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram)
Keywords: Mini Sivakumar