The Hindu Lit for Life 2018

Forging a new, interesting language through art

Melting pot (Left to right): Vivek Shanbhag, Arshia Sattar, SG Vasudev and Jeet Thayil.   | Photo Credit: R. Ravindran

Art, it seems, is born from countless inspirations — elements in nature, the mundane, socio-political forces like war, even literature itself. Three unconnected sessions at The Hindu Lit for Life dwelt on the power of art to transform, mobilise, heal and move.

In conversation with Tehzeeb Katari at The Hindu Lit for Life, artist Subodh Kerkar spoke about landscape art and the power of art to effect transformation in thinking about issues. The artist, who uses sand, rocks, shells of brilliant blue and green, pigments, and the ocean itself, creates powerful minimalist installations.In one, the moon, created out of shells on the sand, is washed away when the tide rises and waves kiss the shore. That the work is impermanent is symbolic. “Human life itself is transient,” he said.

Kerkar’s installation of electrical circuits juxtaposed with shards of bullets is an astute commentary on society today. “Terrorism and telecommunication are two words that best describe the present age,” he said. “Paradoxically, terrorism arises from a lack of communication between groups and ideas.” Kerkar’s heavily political art is also a call for action. His ‘Carpet of Joy,’ an installation of 1,50,000 plastic bottles fashioned into colourful flowers, is a plea to end littering.

Ruing the near absence of any knowledge of contemporary art among Indians, the doctor-turned-artist said institutions in the country taught outdated syllabi that treated photography, painting, architecture and sculpture as isolated, distinct art forms while all art and all mediums were, in actuality, interconnected. Art was not just a tool of communication, Kerkar said, but that which “teaches us there are other points of view besides ours, and yet makes us stand for something.”

Echoing this belief in the inherently social and political nature of art, visual artist T. Sanathanan, in his conversation with A.S. Panneerselvan, spoke of his work to document the histories of Sri Lankan Tamils displaced by the civil war. His installations comprising material memory — everyday objects like dolls, barbed wire, identity cards from what remained of homes — as well as his poignant work ‘The Incomplete Thombu’ are infused with a sense of loss and the bittersweet rekindling of memories of a time ravaged by strife. Importantly, Sanathanan believes it is possible to heal and come to terms with the trauma of war using art. “There is no socio-psychological support given to those who were robbed of their agency and became victims of war,” he said, adding that the new generation of artists among his students has “found a new, interesting language” through art to speak of their experiences.

That great art is often born as response was also endorsed by artist S.G. Vasudev, whose evocative black-and-white line drawings in response to A.K. Ramanujan’s powerful poetry were displayed in a session that saw authors Arshia Sattar and Vivek Shanbhag speak about A.K. Ramanujan the linguist, poet, translator and teacher. Moderator Jeet Thayil said Ramanujan’s poetry in English boasted a modernist sensibility, using “understatement rather than declaration, dry humour and irony,” and that his simple, minimal poems could be unpacked into pages of complex prose.

Shanbhag said Ramanujan’s writing was reflexive and sensitive, and his use of words measured. “He would say that words are like people — they behave in a certain way when together and a different way when alone,” he said, adding that Ramanujan’s writing was — and would likely remain — inimitable.

Sattar, who knew Ramanujan as a professor, said he taught his students the valuable lesson of thinking fearlessly of the target language rather than the origin when attempting a translation, and to own a text before translating it. Perhaps most crucially, Ramanujan saw enormous wealth in folktales and women’s writing, genres otherwise relegated to the periphery of literature, and this altered the course of South Asian studies forever.

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Printable version | Jun 15, 2021 9:00:42 PM |

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