At The Hindu Lit Fest 2024, Photo and Visual artiste Pushpamala N will explore the term ‘Body politic’

The Multifaceted artiste  lets irony and satire speak through her work

Updated - January 18, 2024 05:48 pm IST

Published - January 18, 2024 11:36 am IST

Photo and visual artiste Pushpamala N.

Photo and visual artiste Pushpamala N. | Photo Credit: S.R. Raghunathan

She was due to be born on Rajyotsava (the State formation day of Karnataka), and take the name of Rajyalakshmi. But, she was born on another date and took on the name of Pushpamala.

Years later, Pushpamala N., a trained, skilled, much-awarded sculptor-turned photo and video artiste, would play Rajyalakshmi, chief reporter of Ideal Times, and interview herself on her artistic processes and choices — and this would be published in a catalogue for a show of her work at a gallery in Bangalore.

“You have been getting photographs taken of yourself and exhibiting them. Are you a narcissist?” Rajyalakshmi would ask her. “No, I am a humourist,” Pushpamala would reply, laughing.

Stepping right into the mirror and conversing with her image (or one she has created), with the audience as witness is a hallmark of Pushpamala’s art. You see her in her art but you also see her outside, making it. Her presence at multiple levels in the artwork offers a gamut of images, not unlike many mirrors reflecting each other into infinity.

Pushpamala doesn’t dissolve divides in her art-making, to shock or wow her audience. She does it because her artistic questions lie on all sides of the mirror, and often, also in the viewers’ imagination. Finding the need for more breadth of expression than traditional art practices could provide, Pushpamala moved from being a sculptor to working with conceptual photography and video in the 1990s, a time of rising fundamentalism and neo-liberalist policies in the country.

Pushpamala’s first photo-romance, Phantom Lady or Kismet (in which a masked female character sets about rescuing her lost twin) was “laughed at”, she says in an old media interview. Those were the early years of conceptual photography in India and she would continue to explore the use of “performance, humour and fiction”, taking the enmeshing of reality and imagination many levels inward. Through her project ‘Native Women of South India: Manners and Customs,’ she reinvented hundreds of images of women that had been seen very differently earlier or never before.

Pushpamala N getting ready to perform.

Pushpamala N getting ready to perform. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

When I speak to Pushpamala N, she’s in Kolkata, getting ready to perform ‘Gauri Lankesh’s Urgent Saaru.’ “Saaru is not rasam here,” she explains. “It is a gravy. Gauri taught me this recipe and this will be a cooking performance. I will be in a Bharath Matha costume, make the dish and then share it with the audience,” she says. It is her “act of remembrance and an attempt to humanise dear friend Gauri,” she adds. Pushpamala discloses that performing live makes her nervous as she’s used to having a lot of space to edit and finalise exactly what the audience sees of her work, while working with the camera.

Speaking of her impending talk at The Hindu Lit Fest 2024, she says she will be “addressing the idea of the nation and women’s place in the nation” through a playful exploration of the term ‘The Body Politic’. “I haven’t yet decided which of my works I will reference through this talk,” she says. Her strongly feminist work has always reflected her “boredom with the idea of woman as victim.” She prefers to let “irony and satire speak through her work” that she “layers with histories and memories”. This is something any audience can recognise and relate to, says this multifaceted artiste.

Pushpamala N will be speaking at The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 on The Body Politic.

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