BENGALURU : The journey as one of the few female sculptors in India wasn’t always easy for 75-year-old Kanaka Murthy, who was born in the Gadag district of Karnataka and now resides in Banaswadi, Bengaluru. Coming from a traditional Brahmin family, her parents had doubted her ability to achieve something as a practitioner of one of the ancient art forms in Karnataka. After completing her degree, she began immersing herself in other art forms such singing and painting as a full-time career, but was never fully satisfied with her work and wanted to do more. She recalls visiting a temple in Mysuru in 1965 where she first encountered beautiful stone sculptures of deities.
“I was so fascinated by them that I wanted to learn more about it and I would visit the temple almost every day just to have a glance at the beautiful art pieces,” she says. The same year, she came across Devalakunda Vadiraj, a renowned traditional sculptor. He didn't judge her because of her gender. He saw her genuine interest in the art and began training her till his demise in 1993. “I started with clay-modelling and went on to traditional and contemporary sculptures,” she says.
Inspired by his work, she followed her guru to various parts of India as well as other countries such as the UK and Russia, to participate in several events. “Those days, when I visited London, the people there stared and doubted me while I was selecting the stones for a sculpture. However, now since I have made a name for myself, I have overcome those challenges,” she explains. With more than 200 sculptures at different temples across the country credited to her, she still continues to favour traditional art over contemporary ones. However, she has also worked on stone, wood and fibreglass sculptures.
Some of her notable works are the 11-feet tall Hanuman sculpture at a temple in Banaswadi, Ganesha sculpture at Sai Baba Hospital in Whitefield, the Kannada litterateur Kuvempu's (1904-1994) bust at Lalbagh West Gate, the Wright Brothers' statue at the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum (VITM) and busts of Hindustani classical vocalists such as Gangubai Hangal, Mallikarjun Mansur, and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi at other public spaces. “I enjoy working on portraits of deities, musicians and poets,” she points out.
When asked about what advice she would give to the upcoming women sculptors in the country, she says, “Whatever you do, there must always be determination to work until you are satisfied with your work, you have to continuously strive for it.”Currently, she has been teaching only one student for the past 15 years and is focusing on writing about sculpting, her journey and a biography of her guru. The title of her new book will be announced at a guest talk by her at the India Foundation of the Arts (IFA) on May 17, 7 pm.