Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mini Sivakumar (1962-2010)

(Mini Sivakumar 1962-2010)

Artist Mini Sivakumar passes away. She was forty seven years old. Mini had been under treatment at the Regional Cancer Centre Trivandrum for the last few months. With the untimely demise of Mini on 4th September 2010, we have lost a good artist and a pious human being.
Mini Sivakumar is the wife of Prof.R.Sivakumar, internationally known art historian and professor at Kalabhavana, Santiniketan.
Born in Trivandrum, a southern district in Kerala in 1962, Mini took post-graduation in Zoology and continued her post-doctoral research at Viswabharati University. Mini was an ardent admirer and practitioner of art. She took to art professionally almost ten years back and participated in several group shows all over India. In 2008, Mini had her major solo show at Birla Akademy, Mumbai.

(Adam's Daughter by Mini Sivakumar)

(Night Watchers by Mini Sivakumar)

(Following is the catalogue essay that I wrote for Mini Sivakumar’s last solo show in Mumbai)
When Adam’s Daughter Speaks
In Mini Sivakumar’s paintings the private world/thoughts of a woman spills over into the realm of public/political. The traditional feminist argument, ‘personal is political’, though has become slightly clich├ęd thanks to overuse and abuse, Mini Sivakumar consciously resorts to this line of argument not as a pronounced feminist but as a female living in a world where exclusions have become the norm and rebellion against exclusions often looked down upon. Perhaps, that is the major reason why this artist’s works are intricately concocted, deliberately decorated and vehemently filled with loaded symbolism. This choice of creating a world of political fantasies with a cutting edge lampooning, demands added and vigorous attention from the viewer. They challenge cursory gazes and dismissive smiles.

With a smile Mini subverts the commonly held notions of femininity; woman as the progenitor of primal sin, an ogress and the embodiment of all evils. This subversion however, is not done by articulating the female body in a rebellious posture, but in a celebratory way. The historico-mythical relationship between the man and woman is challenged by rearticulating it and bringing into an arena of discourse. In ‘Adam’s Daughter’, Eve is presented as the daughter of Adam amidst a Rousseau-esque sylvan landscape, which could be a surrogate representation of the Garden of Eden. The myth of sinning and the ensuing expulsion become a redundant one and Mini’s (Adam’s) Daughter reclaims her right to be in the Garden of Eden. The conspicuous absence of the serpent, the man and the chiding angel, and the celebratory inscriptions on the daughter’s body with the images of ‘apple’, then become potential pointers for understanding the existential might and right of the daughter, who the myths had once expelled from her rightful abode.
This act of reclamation facilitated in Mini’s works happens not only through the deconstruction of myths but also through the jovial but critical re-articulations of the popular visual culture where the woman is always victimized through choicest symbolism. As an artist working from Santiniketan and immersed in the visual culture of Bengal in general, Mini finds adequate visual references from her surroundings itself. The daily chores of a woman and her internalization of the anti-woman visual culture(al) narratives that almost assume the nature of an unauthorized propaganda come to be Mini’s points of departure. The protected and complacent boundaries of Santiniketan are ruptured for a to and fro traffic of ideas and articulations, which the artist effectively uses in her works.
Kalighat paintings, which have been serving the purpose of social commentaries and critique of the male-female relationship both in public and private domains, create a milieu for Mini’s paintings. The story of Mahant and Elokeshi, the domineering Bengali Babu who has adopted the life style of the colonial masters, their symbolic version in the form of a saintly cat devouring a fish and so on get transcended by Mini’s artistic interventions. These images, which are deeply inscribed in the cultural memory, find a new relevance in our globalized society, which still resists acknowledging the woman’s rights. The work titled ‘Alice Walking her Cat’, in this context, functions as a reminder of the hypocritical cultural claims of a (male dominated) society.
The reference to Alice, the protagonist of Lewis Carol’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’, interestingly posits Mini’s protagonist (whom I would like to call as Mini’s daughter) in a world where time, space and language lose their unities. Alice now has the cat (unlike Carol’s Alice who could not have the Cat/Rabbit), the cat that doubles up as a creature from the wonderland and from the Kalighat paintings. It is a tamed creature now but by decorating its body with the images of fishes, Mini takes on the cultural hypocrisy that wears progressive ideologies on its sleeve. Mini’s cat does not eat fish, it simply wears/internalizes the fish.
The same hypocrisy is once again lampooned at in the painting titled ‘Grand Illusions’. Here the archetypal Bengali Babu is seen seated majestically in an armchair but with his skeleton showing through his grand suit. He is ‘tolerant’ enough to allow the festivities of women happening around him. Perhaps, he even derives some kind of pleasure in surveying the women, while declaring his adherence to progressive ideology, which is emblematically represented in the wine glass that he holds with his heart deposited in it. Does he speak from his heart? Does he eat and drink his heart, so sincere and compassionate like the bleeding Jesus? Quirky questions like these seem to come out of Mini’s palette. She underlines the futility of this posturing by painting a lizard aggressively mounting its mate and also by scattering the images of a (phallic) gun all over the ‘body’ of the painting.
Mini, in her works, shuns any kind of feminist propaganda and that is the reason why she avoids painting female nudes. This break away from the ‘feminist tradition’ and placing some of her protagonists as conventional‘Nayikas’  (who are either waiting for the beloved to come in or searching for them even daring the natural threats) make Mini’s paintings a different articulation of the feminine self. Whether she is in a garden, in a railway station, or in a drawing room where she sits and contemplates the happenings around the nearest world and the world beyond, they look composed and assertive. They are neither the victims nor the victors. They are the beings who have reclaimed (or having the energy to reclaim) their rightful place in the world. Mini is an optimist and her works exude this optimism.
The subtle subversions, as in Kamala Das’ words, ‘small little earth quakes’ that Mini generates within and without her pictures embody the spirit of deconstructing the inscribed. The calendar perfect articulation of family and its imagined security are destabilized when Mini presents her iconic protagonist dealing with the world happenings, when she, like a queen heads towards her ‘Mother’s House’ on an autumn day, and poses herself as a fire spitting guardian angel to a city and as a silly little girl who imagines ‘so many things’ in her idle moment.
Though autobiographical renderings are the most powerful medium that a woman could resort to in dealing with a male dominated world, Mini rather distances from her autobiographical references. She likes to make biographies of emblematic women who, like her, are ready to face the world even at the expense of their past training, with precision, verve and the much used but still relevant word, ‘love’.


Vandana said...

Thanks for your care and respect for an exceptionally talented artist of our time.

parvez said...

Very nice and warm piece Johny, it is indeed a big loss for all of us..

Rajagopal said...

Mini Sivakumar was my neighbour in Trivandrum, my sister's classmate, and I remember her as a little girl of exceptional talent whose paintings won accolades in School Youth Festivals. She had an excellent academic career too. (She passed her MSc Zoology from the University of Kerala with First Rank.) It is exceedingly unfortunate that an individual as talented as Mini should call it quits at 47. (D S Rajagopal)

K P Ramesh said...

Johnichayan, your aricle on Mini Sivakumar is touching.........
K P Ramesh.