A close-up of a homogenous crowd in the grip of a telling emotion, rasa, is something not easily conceivable.
Working further on her favourite leit motif of crowd, artist P.S. Jalaja has now turned her canvass into a cauldron of intensely individual emotions transferred to think-alike mob. Her first solo show, opening at Kashi Art Gallery in Fort Kochi on Saturday, features the personally political ‘navarasa’ series of paintings that are remarkable for their social currency, satirical undertone and tremendous local appeal.
Besides the rasas, there will be other works from the artist’s socially conscious oeuvre in the nine-week show curated by artist and Kochi Biennale Foundation trustee Bose Krishnamachari.
“As a social being, moreover as a practising artist living in Kerala, the agonising contemporary social realities of the so-called ‘God’s own country’ that flood through various media have stirred my sensibilities, often driving me into dejection. I try to depict the shocking facets of the place’s disquieting communal state of affairs,” says Ms. Jalaja, who hails from Keezhillam in Kerala.
The series, with its subtle interference with the State’s degenerating psyche, calls for introspection. “Kerala, with its captivating nature, soothing climate, astounding cultural lineage and stunning social indices can also be an arena for studying the overall decadence in sociopolitical and cultural spheres. The series demonstrates my anxiety over the changing traits of a people. It is also an effort to give expression to the prevailing dismal realities by way of black humour,” says the 30-year-old artist, who holds the singular distinction of taking part in Prague, Kochi and Gwangju biennales, the last identifying her as one of the 35 emerging Asian artists in 2010.
Personal is political in Ms. Jalaja’s works, which effortlessly bring together people’s histories, or patriarchal histories, and contemporary social issues. “When a man is part of a mob, his history blends into the collective human history,” is how she describes her crowd theme, from which has emanated the darkly humourous and distressing ‘navarasa’ series.
Thus you have a posse of police leering at you; a bunch of suavely-dressed voyeurs; people from varying religious sects evoking revulsion and the like.
All but two of the 16 works which will be displayed as part of the show have Kerala-centric themes.
After doing a Masters in Fine Arts from RLV College, Tripunithura, Jalaja went on to present her works in group shows within and outside India, the most recent being an art residency in Italy. The activist-artist won the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi award in 2009.