“The absence is more permanent than presence. Yet, all constructs of the human life revolve around presence. Invariably, the mind devises its own ways to beat the void,” says Kota Neelima. The concept of negotiating and documenting the absence in and around us has been a recurring motif in the author-painter’s oeuvre. In her last exhibition, the cold silence enveloping the disputed site of Ayodhya was captured in myriad hues, with symbols of nature, such as trees and flowers dotting her canvases.
But that was the beginning of 2017. We are almost in the midst of the 2018 and the gaze of the multifaceted Neelima has shifted to a subject which has been central to her research for more than a decade. As is her wont, Neelima has always turned to the creative medium to draw attention to what she felt was left unsaid in the written word. For her, the thoughts that couldn’t be verbalised, need to be documented. This time too, the outpourings of her observation around the wives of the farmers, who committed suicide, find a creative outlet in her latest exhibition, ‘Metaphors of the Moon’.
This body of work is stemmed from her new book, ‘Widows of Vidarbha, Making of Shadows’, wherein she has documented the lives of 18 women who suddenly found themselves anchoring the ship of the family after their husbands killed themselves for failing to repay the debt. The process of reconciliation and negotiation these women undergo are rendered subliminally in the solo show.
Borrowing symbols from her previous works, she has found refuge in the subdued, muted hues to display her engagement with the mind. The cerebral space and its arcane ways are beautifully replicated in the painting, “A Name” in which a giant moon is being coiled in the grip of the roots of a blossoming tree. The 36X36 oil on canvas evokes the mood for contemplation, such is the effect of the serene colours on the mind and on the eyes.
As a journalist and researcher, Neelima has been following the footprints of agrarian distress in the rural India, especially the Vidarbha region in Maharashtra since 2005. The thing that caught her attention was the fact that the news about the farmers’ suicide was often mentioned in the mainstream media, but the conversations around their wives usually fell into the dark crevices of politics. If her book is an attempt to throw light on th trials and tribulations faced by these widows, the exhibition exhibits what these women make of the “absence” in their lives.
“There is a kind of helplessness among these women because suddenly they are expected to take care of the family. How do they reconcile with this loss? How it invisibles them even further, and what about reconciliation? I have tried to address these questions in my works,” she says.
“I have been closely in contact with the women I have featured in my book and they have often told me how the symbols of nature represented their sense of loss. The mind is the metaphor for the moon in my works. It represents the cyclic process of thought, its creation, immersion and regeneration, and also absence and presence,” she adds.
Unlike her previous works, the moon takes the centre stage in this series. Neelima has not only drawn an analogy between the mind and the moon, but also taken a leaf from the significance of the moon in the everyday life in villages.
“The moon is an important entity in the rural areas than urban cities,” points out Neelima, adding how our cities are still “darker zones” for the poor who don’t get an uninterrupted supply of electricity or can’t afford to pay for it. However, the situation is entirely different on the rural landscape, where electricity is erratic and interrupted. Thus, the moon becomes an instrument in bringing villagers together for various activities. “From children studying under its light to people indulging in discussions, the cycles of moon are observed watchfully in rural centres,” says Neelima.
In her concept note, Neelima writes, “Like the moon, the mind too reduces itself to fit the mortal world. The mind binds itself to the temporal, despite the knowledge of its timelessness, and expanse.” So, the role the mind plays in upholding human consciousness can’t be negated, and the context becomes even more crucial in the present socio-political scenario.
“The mind doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t differentiate between the religion and caste. But, the thoughts and ideas influencing it can’t be filtered. Those, who are trying to poison the mind, forget that it reacts against the hegemonic subversion. This too shall pass,” she says.
(Metaphors of the Moon can be viewed at Lalit Kala Akademi until May 17)