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Lived Experience Reimagines Boundaries of Art: Sahapedia Session

In Kochi
March 25, 2019

Portraying lived experience can help one reimagine the boundaries of art and defy formal ways of figuration being taught in classrooms, according to an interactive session organised by Sahapedia, an open online multimedia knowledge resource on cultures.

Contemporary art practices are in a flux, where bodies, identities and sexualities have of late been renegotiating with the conventional boundaries, speakers noted at a Baithak organised by Sahapedia at the Kerala History Musuem in Edappally.

Artist-curator Aryakrishnan, in conversation with scholar-academic Santhosh Sadanandan, spoke at length about his work currently on display at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, where the site also doubles as a performance space that seeks to reiterate the core idea of the work. Aryakrishnan’s ‘Sweet Maria Monument’ at the 108-day art festival is a response to the brutal killing of a prominent LGBTQ activist in Kerala seven years ago.

Maria, a toll collector who fellow Malayali Aryakrishnan knew as a friend, was found dead with throat slit at downstate Kollam district’s coastal town of Thankassery in May 2012. That prompted a shocked Aryakrishnan, then a student at Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD), to go for a project based on the theme of gender fluidity and injustices against the queer community.

Today, the main Aspinwall House venue of the biennale features its evolved model, named ‘Sweet Maria Monument’. At the Sahapedia conversation titled ‘Already-Not-Yet’ on Sunday evening, Delhi-based Aryakrishnan reflected upon how the project incorporated inputs from several LGBTQ people, making it both a piece of art as well as curation.

The work also becomes as a site of performance where the artist wears a skirt to roam around the sprawling seaside venue and visit other artworks on display, symbolising a connection between the biennale exhibits. The memory of being on street with Sweet Maria propels the artwork to come out of the formal ways of creating and engaging with art, adds Aryakrishnan, 37, who originally hails from Pathanamthitta of east-central Kerala.

Dr Santhosh, who teaches at AUD’s School of Culture and Creative Expressions, said Aryakrishnan’s biennale work attempted to negate formal ways of figuration being practised at art schools. What’s more, ‘Sweet Maria Monument’ has theoretical and political implications to think about ways of generating ‘minor languages’ and non-categorical thinking, he added.

The artwork, informed by lived experience, does not attempt easy narrativizations or label itself as gay art, according to Dr Santhosh. “The artist shows immense care while addressing the transformation from particular to universal,” said the speaker, adding that the feature becomes essential for a work to escape traps of easy renditions on questions of identity.

Dr Santhosh mentioned similar instances in Dalit literature where its identity makes possible certain utterances that, all the same, surpass those identities.

The Sahapedia discussion was attended by contemporary artists such as V V Vinu and K P Reji.