Tuesday, October 20, 2009
In Sosa Joseph’s paintings (currently on at Mirchandani+Steinruecke Gallery, Mumbai) daily chores of a woman take the shapes of simple codes that are decipherable only by using the keys of experience. Such codification happens when an artist thinks in crisp literary catch phrases like ‘birds came to a conference during the flood’, ‘cats came as I cut fish’, ‘from the depths of blue waters she came up and the world went on with its rituals unaware of her coming’ etc. By looking at her works one could easily say that she is inspired by the myths that she conjures up during the afternoon ennui and the sadness of evenings. She then converts these myths into visuals as an attempt to impart meaning to her existence as a human being as well as an artist.
Imagine the artist as a lonely woman (which is an assumed self of the artist as she has to play the busy roles of being a mother and wife) sitting at a window sill and watching over the waters that flow by and the greenery that sways by the wind. She is trapped in time and space and the self imposed immobility has given her a special capacity to see the things around her with an added clarity. There are two possibilities before her; either she can enter the larger world using communication facilities or she can leave her studio behind and set out for a journey. However, she chooses to be there at her studio in Kochi, perhaps making herself insular from the world affairs. Hence, there is no war, no bleeding and no rifts in her work.
One would be surprised to see a woman artist’s work without red threads, stitches, ripping off of the canvases, riveting performances and iconic imageries. In Sosa’s pictorial world these generic feminine constructions are strangers. While at her canvas she relies on her mythologies, her pet dreams, her daily utensils and the most trivial daily events, liking a cat chasing another cat.
But this world of simple codes is deceptive. It ensnares the viewer into another world of micro politics and economics. The artistic immobility or self imposed confinement within her studio space reveals itself to the viewer as a strategy that the artist uses to understand a ‘resultant world’. This is a left over world or a world left over by the dealings of macro politics and macro economics. Everyday, every moment, a left over world is produced by the macro world of politics and economics. This left over world happens within the domestic realms of a woman, who often is at the receiving end of things. And she finds her haven in the kitchen.
One may find this argument a bit stretched as they see a lot of women coming out of this confined domestic spheres and making the macro world their own. They participate in the bigger world affairs and they assert their freedom to be individuals. Kitchen is no longer their prison. But as we go deeper into the layers of the contemporary society, we see, despite all the achievements by liberated women in the world, most of the women are still left in the left over worlds of kitchen and domesticity. From these left over worlds the softest of revolutions occur in the form of songs, images, rituals, madness, mythologies and wailing. Sosa paints this world of micro revolution where the individual women handle their lives in confinement with dignity. They become the queens of their own world managing their practical realms and the realms of imagination.
Seen from this perspective Sosa’s images, coconuts, fish, vegetables, cats, jugs, mugs and many other kitchen utensils come to us as micro units of a left over world where the woman manages the lives in general. It is from the left over money or the accumulated money that she collects for her simple ingredients for nourishment. The artist seems to probe into the origin of economics within these domestic spheres where men are not present, rendered useless or even engaged in other social rituals like religious processions or political processions.
What is the economics of kitchen where men are absent, is the question that Sosa raises in her works. She places the woman as the focus of this discourse on micro economics. Her unproductive labor is always rendered in the kitchen space where she has to deal with fish and cat, vegetables and coconut. However, in her subtle defiance Sosa finds a way to create value for her daily labor by raising it into the symbolic order. In symbolic order we find value. There is a soft revolution taking place in Sosa’s works, which perhaps the city bred liberated women cannot identify with.
The animal world which is more active than the human world in Sosa’s works, is emblematic in the sense that the artist tends to state for the women, only this world of mute creatures seems to be comforting. This is a deliberate stance of a creative woman to shun the men’s world and retreat into the world of animals and vegetables and fish. She makes constant communication with water and the communication is emphasized through the visual images like birds and animals doing their holy communion during the times of flood and deluge. She identifies with the evening of dragonflies.
Sosa in one of her major works titled ‘Incomplete lessons’ paints a surrogate self portrait that finds resonances with the famous painting ‘Birth of Venus’ by Botticelli. Here we have the artist’s surrogate coming out from a conch shell covered till waist by a host of fish. She takes the centre stage and around her unveils the daily drama of men and mass. The domestic world is on her left and right in layers and gradations and she remains there in the middle unaffected by all, like a presiding spirit, almost mocking the existence of all what is happening around her. Only in this work, Sosa shows the contained rebellion of her otherwise demure self.
Sosa Joseph does not wail that she is a household utensil that gets grated away in kitchen. On the contrary, she finds affinities and to show this affinity she chooses a sort of naïve expressionism, which is quite common to woman artists who contain rebellion in their minds. Sosa has her on stylistic affiliations with the contemporary art practice. In her smaller works, she is closer to the language of Nilima Sheikh and when it comes to the narrative formats she likes to be closer to the style developed by Gulam Mohammed Sheikh. It should be a thing of pride as contemporary art does not happen in a void. It has a continuity, at times diverging and at times converging with history.