Alterbodies exhibition

Body and beyond

Print edition : July 26, 2013

Alterbodies 2.

Alterbodies 1.

Alterbodies 3.

A painting titled "I am holding my own hand".

Alterbodies 4.

Sajitha Shankar’s “Alterbodies” transcends the sensual and the sexual to have near-metaphysical encounters with the self.

THE human form has been a source of inspiration, a space for exploration and ceaseless experimentation with forms and perspectives, in art right from the days of the primitive art of Asia and Africa, the classical art of Greece, the Renaissance art of Italy, the temple and cave art and the Moghul and Rajasthani miniatures of India to the days of Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp and Rene Magritte, or M.F. Husain , F.N. Souza, Bhupen Khaker, Anjalie Ela Menon, Sarojpal Gogi, Madhavi Parekh and several others. Each time we imagine that the possibilities of the human figure have been exhausted, some artist comes up with still newer representations of the body that sometimes, as in the case of Sajitha Shankar, are attempts to go beyond the body, to transcend it or look through it to the non-material within the material in a near-metaphysical encounter with the self.

Sajitha’s new series “Alterbodies” —which was on show at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi in March and is on show at Alliance Francaise, Thiruvananthapuram, at present—is, however, not something that happened in a day: it is the product of years of evolution and gradual exploration, starting from her vibrant charcoal portraits, particularly of women, her sketches and etchings, done at times to illustrate works of poetry, as the works she did at the “Words and Lines” workshop in Germany, and at times as drawings for larger works, her autobiographical works that reveal the power of the feminine as a natural force and often quarrel with a dominantly patriarchal world in order to assert the dignity of women in an unfriendly social climate to her series of archetypal paintings and drawings that often emerge from myths to address our collective memory and reflect the mystery of the feminine as mother, nature and as creativity itself. Her earlier works, like those inspired by Akka Mahadevi and Jesus Christ and her latest work, the “Tantric Yoni”, an installation done for the “One Billion Rising” event in two cities in Kerala, can all be seen as certain high points of this exploration.

The present series, “Alterbodies”, seeks to discover the possibilities of the body as a source of energy and creativity. The artist, tired of and rebelling against the male gaze that often reduces the female body to the sheer physicality of its animal existence or a “beautiful” objet du desir, attempts to transcend the sensual and the sexual that can hardly answer the dilemmas of existence or hold the burden of being. The body, then, comes to be perceived as a constraint on creativity, a frontier to be crossed to realise one’s self.

These paintings look at the alternative possibilities of the body, its playful metamorphoses into what it is not, its reaching out to new destinies. The scope of the biological body thus gets enlarged—even biologically enhanced as some works in the series show—through an unnatural ordering of the organs and an unnatural employment of colours and lines. Sajitha seems to be attempting to create an alternative biology or a counter-biology of imagination in her new works.

If Sajitha’s earlier works had embodied the inexplicable capacity of the female figure to effortlessly accommodate and express the artist’s creative insights into anything from the mundane to the metaphysical and critiqued male representations of the feminine form with their desire-driven gaze, here she grows freer in two ways: first, by playfully introducing a kind of disorder into the concept and construct of the body and then by encountering her own body in the wilderness of her emotional, intellectual and spiritual experiences. At times she reduces the body to its essentials, at times she transposes its parts, at times the body metamorphoses into trees or flowers, or meditates among the mountains, but it is seldom the surface that she looks at; it is something deeper, inner, archetypal. “Alterbodies”, while being continuous in a way with Sajitha’s earlier work, is also a crucial turning point in her career as an artist as here she is at her contemplative best.

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