The Radical Movement of the 1980s in Indian art was a reaction to the politics of the times. Led by K. P. Krishnakumar, it worked to bring art closer to the common man. T. K. Sadasivan recapitulates the group’s strong Kerala connect and its populist ethos
One of the prominent and exceptional events that marks Kerala’s art scene was the emergence of the ‘Radical Movement’ in the 1980s. It was the first concerted movement by a group of avant-garde artists, mainly sculptors and painters, majority of who were Keralites. Incidentally, this movement was, in a sense, an extension of anti-caste, anti-feudal and anti-establishment movements that erupted during Emergency (1975-1977) in Kerala as well as in other parts of India.
The informal group consisted of ‘differently thinking’ artists like K. P. Krishnakumar, N. N. Rimson, Alex Mathew, Prabhakaran, K. M. Madhusudhanan, Akitham Vasudevan. All of them were students of the College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram, except Krishnakumar, who had passed out earlier and was considered as the ‘Che’ of these Radicals.
Prabhakaran, a prominent member of the group says, “Emergency was just over and the general political trend was in favour of leftist ideology. There were no jobs or other ways of livelihood especially for the students coming out of art schools. Galleries were not promoting the real works of art like those of Ram Kinker’s. Galleries ignored us as they thought that we were against them. Even our teachers were against our views. The (Radical) movement evolved from the discussion on those lines.”
Initially, the group reacted to some of the Government policies that made the future of art students look bleak. The Radicals were upset about the growing capitalist tendencies in the art world. They observed that the function of art was being diluted for the sake of vested interests. Prabhakaran adds, “We decided to become a part of the people and interact with their problems through our works. We organised art camps in public places like markets and schools and our works reflected the issues or aspirations of the common people.
We introduced them to the works through slide shows and exhibitions. The common people also identified with them as their own and realised that modern art is for them too”.
Soon, the Radicals moved to places outside the State. Krishnakumar went to Santiniketan for higher studies. Rimson, Alex Mathew, the late Asokan Pothuval and Surendran Nair joined the Baroda School for further studies. There too the ‘Radical’ Keralites responded typically against the issues that erupted in and around.
The Sculpture Exhibition held at Kasauli Art Centre, Delhi, titled ‘Scultors by Seven Sculptors’ and curated by Vivan Sundaram was a milestone in their journey. The catalogue prepared by Anita Dubey, who was then a part of the group, proclaims, “All around us we are seeing the function of art being compromised and its elitist base being strengthened. Sculptures and paintings have become mysterious, a-historic, aesthetically isolated and somewhat sacrosanct. This is far from our desire to reinstate art as a passionate human activity.” (Anita Dubey in ‘Seven Sculptor’s catalogue).
As more artists who subscribed to the views of the ‘Radicals’ joined the group, a formal association named ‘Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association’ came into being. The manifesto of the Association was published in connection with an exhibition conducted at Town Hall, Kozhikode. The exhibition displayed works by E. H. Pushkin, Jyothibasu, K. Prabahakaran, D. Alexander, Krishnakumar, Babu, Hareendran, K. Reghunathan, Karunakaran, Pradeep, Sunilkumar, Johns, Radhakrishnan and Rajan. Another landmark exhibition, aptly titled, ‘Questions & Diaglogues’ was conducted in 1987.
The unfortunate and sudden deathof Krishnakumar shackled the movement. Krishnakumar took his life on December 26, 1989. Reliable sources say he was subjected to accusations on the previous day in an artist’s camp for leading the Radical Artists to nowhere.
The ‘Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association’ was effective in putting forth the view of the artist from a ‘left’ angle. As the group grew, different views and opinions erupted. And ultimately authoritarian tendencies developed within and the movement died a natural death. In spite of all this, the movement had a tremendous impact on India’s art scene.
Representation at KMB
Interestingly, some of these ‘Radical’ artists and sculptors, hold diverse views about the ongoing Kochi Muziris Biennale. While N. N.Rimson is against this event, others like Reghunathan, Prabhakaran, Jyothibasu and Alex Mathew are actively participating in the event. In fact, some of the best works at Biennale are by them. Others like Pushkin and Karunakaran reserve their opinion.