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Symbols of protest

The exhibition of dalit paintings in the City provided a platform for some of the dalit movement's staunch votaries, who tend to keep the spirit of the movement flashing in their works.

An untitled work by O. Venkatesh

THE RECENTLY-concluded exhibition of paintings organised as part of the festival of dalit arts by Samvada, at the Chitra Art Gallery, brought together a group of two dozen artists of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Colours of Liberation set out to expose - if not address - the concerns, aspirations, and issues of the dalit world through a set of images of despair, struggle and protest.

The dalit movement in Karnataka particularly in the 70s and 80s, pitch forked some extraordinarily talented and committed writers, artists, and performers. At its peak, even as the Left intelligentsia sided with the movement, the centrists sympathised with it, the extreme right watched with worry and anxiety. With time, the movement, sort of faded out losing its edge, if not relevance, while several of its the proponents merged with the mainstream - in a way, giving up their separate identity. The current exhibition provided a platform for some of the movement's staunch effective votaries who tend to keep the spirit of the movement flashing in their works. While some of the artists - as could perhaps be anticipated - gave a go-by to subtlety and came close to visual sloganeering, the context of the event could accept their anxiety and a somewhat heightened verbosity. The repeated use of red colour, availability of obvious symbols (swords, for example), and strong gestures in some works could be distracting but not be complained about, considering the related and complex questions the artists chose to address. Fortunately, a majority of the artists also displayed a sense of sobriety without diluting their critical analysis and anguished questioning.

Street Hawkers by Muthuswamy M.Q.

There is an ethereal quality imbibed in Adnani's Shadow, where the side-posed figurines are steeped in mystifying ambiance of the canvas irregularly partitioned with light and shade. Their weak smiles do not hide the latent ambiguity of their existence and demeanour. Kurchagi, on the other hand, delights in a creating a colourful rural scene somewhat reminiscent of the cheerfulness of the child-art. The kite-maker (Mani / Badami Series) waits for his customers with unusually dark coloured kites, while Muthuswamy's neatly tuned rectangles are interrupted by Street Hawkers with their anxious looks of an uncertain future. Babu Eshwar Prasad (Listen to the waves) spreads out a dramatic partition housing a distant lighthouse even as a theatrical staircase surrounded by some objects of silent stillness contrast some uproarious seascape elsewhere. A series of more dramatic and powerful images in the exhibition included Hadapad's portrayal of resting sweepers and tired cart pullers, Shivananda's well-built dark protagonist with multiple shadows heightening the dramatic content. K.T. Shivaprasad's colourful folk art cutouts contrasted with intentionally burgeoned physically powerful human forms to some astounding revelation.

Both Venkatesh and Ulaganathan, in their own ways, created images of life in the lower depths, while Nagarajan (Exclusions) etching-like rectangles depicting scenes from rural life looked simple on the surface, but quietly disturbing in its content. Rectangles again in Dilip Kumar Kale's Someday-someway-we will come out! But this time, the symbolism was stark, haunting and unsettling. Another well-composed image emanated on the canvas of Manu Chakravarthy, where a screaming black crow is seated on a red foreground (?) while its relatives are hazily sighted at a distance. Similarly, Yellappa Kamble's three brown figures standing without clothes and probably without hope as well, Prof. Chandru's meticulously delineated Kamadhenu, Charita's Dying Dawn with some trickling rays of hope and P.S. Kumar's untitled work of two dancing blood-smeared (?) figures - all had their own stories to narrate.

Good wishes by Peter A. Lewis

In conclusion, barring some minor shortcomings, the assemblage of 35-odd works that combined to form the Colours of Liberation effectively synthesised the dynamic essence of the dalit movement.


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