The visible and
As is his wont, T.
V. Santhosh through his paintings manages to play a dual game;
visually he presents an imagery withdrawn from specificities of time
and space (rather place) reducing it to a simple structure of common
references, and with it attempts to stimulate some specific latent
emotions within his viewers. T. V. Santhosh while speaking to
Vrushali Dhage, traces the roots to his recent sculptural
been trained as a sculptor and have been practicing painting too; with
these works do you intend to get back to your sculptural practice?
No, I certainly don’t intend to make any strict shift like that. You
can say that these works are an extension of my drawings in a three
dimensional space. I am still drawing from the same references,
predominantly mediatic images, as I do for my paintings. It is just
that I had lot of ideas in my mind, which I thought would find a
better expression as sculptures than paintings.
To an extent our
understanding of events, be it current or historical, is based on the
‘truth’ presented by the media. And there are many versions of this
truth, which in turn questions the authenticity of these accounts, as
there is some concealed truth. In my works I do not intend to mirror
any political undercurrents but to surface parallel realities
surpassing the local specificities. For instance the very word ‘terror
or terrorism’ is no longer alien to us. We no longer need to make an
extra effort to empathize or take cognizance of such unruly activities
faced by, say, individuals from different countries, we are no longer
hit by a level of shock, as now we are living constantly and
simultaneously in worlds which are afflicted by these common issues.
You have never adhered to a pure aesthetic approach…
I believe that there are two notions of art, one of healing or curing
and the other resistance-oriented; in my works healing dominates.
There is a need to look at social aspects from these points of views.
Can you tell us
about how your approach got moulded…
For that I will have to trace back to the time when I was part of a
group called Pratikarna Sangh, in Kerala. It was not a structured NGO
but was similar to one. Later the group was to form its manifesto. The
Sangh was an eclectic organization, it had people who supported the
Leftist, Gandhian, anti-Imperialist, and Marxists views, and as a
result the ideology which it followed was an anti-consumerist one.
What sort of activities did the group undertake?
The group was
involved with various social activities – ecological, feminist etc. It
was during this period, i.e. in the 80's that the Bhopal Gas tragedy
and the Chernobyl disaster occurred. Both these events questioned the
notion of technological progress; whether the direction of progress
was towards exploitation and finally tragedy. These tragedies were
looked upon as side effects of modernism therefore the group strongly
resisted it. There were also other problems like that of global warming and
lowering of the fertility level of soil due to excessive use of
fertilizers and pesticides. 'One Straw Revolution' a book that
spoke on sustainable, natural farming based on harmless traditional
methods by Masanobu Fukuoka, a Japanese agricultural activist too made
a mark in my mind. And then the need of the hour was to create mass
awareness about these issues.
did you go about it…though your paintings?
No, the way of communicating was not through paintings but posters.
Then people were not interested in pure aesthetics. Art was supposedly
non-constructive, and we had to bridge the gap between the common
people and art. I helped the group to make posters, which travelled all
over Kerala, and yes, even performances. We also thought that posters
or paintings would not be as far reaching as drama and literature,
which had a strong presence in Kerala. We thought that no one would
come to see, but the public response was surprisingly large.
Did these happenings have a direct impact on you?
Well they did have a direct impact, as they certainly instigated a
thought process. To me the victims of Bhopal Gas Tragedy and the
Chernobyl, stood as individual examples of the hazards of the
technological progress proving that errors could happen, and the side
effects of which were too huge to be borne. Similar was the feeling
with respect to the Hiroshima, Nagasaki nuclear explosions. The
'mushroom cloud' was a threatening image standing against humanity.
None of us witnessed the explosion but could still empathize. What
intrigued me was that these feelings and reactions were no longer
restricted to the residents of the two fateful cities but were
universal, the feeling of 'fear' and threat of a reoccurrence, at an
equal amplitude, ran across and gripped the minds of people
we say that period played an instrumental role in moulding your
political understanding too?
After Kerala, things must have not been too different at Santiniketan
Yes, Santiniketan too was strongly rooted in traditions and resisted
modernist practices. There was no desire to follow any 'isms'.
What about Baroda?
had an eclectic language. Backed by lot of ideas, beliefs and notions
which had influenced me and which were formed while I was in Kerala
and Santiniketan, I experimented a lot in Baroda. I started working
on the root-cause theory. And later worked on the 'wound theory' which
dominated my work.
Please tell us a bit about it…
For instance if one sees people ravaged by
wars or deeply wounded people, our instantaneous reaction would be
that of repulsion; but a photographic image or a painting of it might
not evoke the same reaction or hit on the same sensory note. The effect
is mitigated by a huge margin. To take it further, one might be drawn
towards such images in order to explore the detailing of it.
VD: In your paintings, with the
positive/negative treatment of the pictures you surpass local
specificities, how have you transferred it in your sculptures?
As I mentioned, I am still drawing from mediatic
images and historical accounts for both my paintings and sculptures.
For instance an image of a barbed wire (esp. on national borders), or
that of an explosion no longer have a localized reference. In one of
my work Houndingdown I have tried to show the same. In
Germany, during the World War II, dogs attached with timed explosives
were employed as suicide bombers; in the current scenario, in the face
of terror, dogs (sniffer dogs) are used to trace landmines and timed
devices. The timers on these are synonymous of the time left with us –
we are counting our days. This pack of thirty dogs seems menacing at
the first sight, but the same dogs share a diametrically opposite role
of protectors too. In this work I also added a text – a narration of a
girl who survived the Hiroshima explosion.
Why did you choose this particular narration?
The narration of the fourteen year old survivor (girl) of the
Hiroshima explosion stood symbolic – words – describing violence,
which could / can be suffered by any one. The girl was mistakenly thrown
into a pile of dead bodies. It was only when she moved that people
knew that she was still alive. She expresses a feeling of awe as she
saw the mushroom cloud; certainly enigmatic and powerful, and yet a
terrible image after the mass destruction. In her description, she
mentions a river, which no longer looked the same, as now it was
filled with corpses. The description seems surrealistic but
unfortunately is a real testament.
In your work titled, A Room to Pray… you have created a space
to pray with a pile of bones… the thought is very intimidating.
It is not unusual. There are many churches in Rome
and the Czech Republic, which are decorated with bones. If you look at
a war torn land, to me, these bones signify the errors in history. The
table is symbolical of The Last Supper, of the prophecies of the
future, of the death of humanity. The room is an evidence of the
gruesome happenings and experiences. It does not point or signify an
individual event but is symbolical of acts against humanity; and yet
it is in this room that one prays for humanity.
works somehow seem to draw its viewers to react...
If we pan across the happenings over the times,
terror has had a pervasive presence. Earlier these sort of happenings
would run a strong wave of shock, but its repetition has somewhat
numbed our reactions. And yet the fear still persists. The need is
simply to raise questions; and then what remains is for a sensate
individual to relate and think.