Art Modernist sculptor K.S. Radhakrishnan speaks about his muse, his mentor and journeying with his creative idiom. Bhawani Cheerath
S culptor K. S. Radhakrishnan is in Kerala revisiting memories, recharging his batteries. ‘Panta Rhei: everything flows’, an exhibition of his latest works, is on at the Kashi Art Gallery in Kochi. It is just three years since ‘The Liminal Space’, a sculptural installation in bronze, introduced the Keralite to his muse and the leitmotif of his works – Musui, the sinewy, reed-like form, who is the universal human to its creator. Then came the other, Maiya, completing the unit as it were. Attaining Musui, and journeying with this icon is in itself the story of man, the story of human experience and the manifestation of a bonding which is liberating. The quintessence of creation, human form and thought coalesce in Musui-Maiya transcending time and space. Radhakrishnan who has curated the retrospective of his mentor Ramkinkar Baij at the National Gallery of Modern Art (2012), in an interview, takes us through paths travelled and the ideating of his sculptures. Excerpts:
Where does Musui stand in the globalised yet alienated world?
Musui stands out as a myth, a human presence, a bridge. It stands for a rootedness, an innocence and to a certain extent an impish and primitive streak. An iconic presence at times, Musui is also a ‘vaahanam’ wherein he is host to many other things. At times he can be Nataraja, and sometimes he is Christ, Gandhi, Parasurama or Mahishasura. Musui-Maiya take to elevated spaces while at the same time remain part of the flowing sea of humanity (‘janapravaaham’). There is a collective strength, a merging which takes place even in the traversing from the particular to the general. That there could be a manner of narration and a continuity in sculpture which penetrate the creative idiom is something I experienced here.
What took you to Santiniketan, beyond Madras (Chennai) which was the first stop for many of the artists from Kerala?
Distance does not matter, really. I had not stepped out of my village, Kuzhimattam, near Kottayam, till then. So, once you move away from from your roots how far you travelled makes little difference. Probably it was a perceived impression that took me to another village, Santiniketan.
There is so much happening in ‘public art’. What is the Indian situation like?
Public art is what brings you in contact with people, not open art. What visual representation does to you is more important. Some of the best of installation art in the West happened in the ‘80s and ‘90s. To look to the West for ideas is not the definition of the word ‘adhunik’. Only if you see a larger world does our vision grow. Unless aesthetic appeal is grounded in your own art, the work remains superficial. Being extremely local and colloquial does not restrict one from being universal. To take an example, Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s film Elipathayam is one such: it communicated to people across the world.
Was Ramkinkar Baij in your mental horizon when you left for Santiniketan?
Ramkinkar Baij was not part of the faculty. His work was spread all across the campus. He was not an easy person to gain access to either. But I was lucky to assist him during my first six years there which were also the last six years of Baij.
He was the first to create an open air sculpture. At the age of 32, his work ‘Santhal Family’ had earned accolades. Observing him I often wondered what it was that made him work in such constrained conditions. Transactions were not imagined. Working so close one learnt.
The move from Santiniketan to New Delhi is not merely a relocation. How did you respond to the total transformation of the terrain around you?
For the last 34 years I have been in Delhi, a larger space, more man made, which has been an enabler as a link to larger spaces. The unknown beckons through the known. We still want to be elsewhere.
I return to Santiniketan which is home to me and is part of the old journey. It is a place that lets you be, the pace and the space integrate to lend a meditative energy. On the occasion of the Rabindranath Tagore’s 150th birth anniversary, A. Ramachandran and myself were invited to a do a sculpture. Maiya as the bow with the arrow waiting to soar stands before the poet’s home.
Musui the muse
Musui was a young Santhal who turned up as a model for Radhakrishnan while in Santiniketan. Enticed by the innocence and rootedness, he did a study of Musui in the nude. When he moved to Delhi, the sculpture was too large to move, so he sawed off the head and carried it with him. The smiling head gathered dust but was also embedded in the mind of the man who made it. In time this head demanded a completeness – instead of giving a torso to the head, the supple, agile and diminutive free spirited Musui took shape.
Unless the aesthetic appeal is grounded in your own art, the work remains superficial.