THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Questions of identity and belonging make up a prominent discourse generated in the contemporary art scenario. This was one of the preoccupations of artist Laksmi Madhavan as she took up a residency programme at Kashi Art Gallery almost a month ago. “At the beginning of my stay here, it was about wanting to understand what part of my identity falls here or whether I belong at all.
Kochi turned out to be the best place—in certain things, it doesn’t feel like a part of Kerala and in others, it’s very much so. This duality reflects me in a way,” says Lakshmi, who recently won the best installation award at the prestigious Kala Ghoda Arts Festival for a work titled I Need Some Air, which spoke of the concrete-ridden landscape of Mumbai.
Connecting the dots
The artist who called Mumbai her home—since her parents left their native place Ottapalam when she was a year-old—says she’s been in constant transition for the past few years which has brought her fresh perspective. After an abrupt discovery of her own art leanings three years back, this ex-corporate professional trained under luminaries like Jitish Kallat (Mumbai), Bernhard Martin (Austria), and Nicolas Menard (France). “Language kept me on the fringes of the community in Europe, which made me look into the concept of home,” says the 31-year-old, whose work focuses on connections that are made in an environment when objects and people interact.
Larger than life
Her choice of material translates from concrete that she used to represent Mumbai to coir when she
picturises her home state. “Coir has a huge historical linking to the state—socially, culturally, and even politically. The industry has gone through its highs and lows and even moved out of the state seeking better prospects; much like Kerala’s large emigrant population,” says the artist, on how her work connects to bigger human concerns like displacement, mortality, and migration.
After multiple visits to Alappuzha—which was once the hub of coir industry in the state—and absorbing the acts of the trade from exporters and workers, the outcome is a 12-foot structure made out of 3,000 metres of the coconut-husk product. The artwork features 2,000 knotted strings suspended from the roof of a room to form the outline of Kerala. “They are also charred to show coir’s attempt to survive the socio-political landscape. Trying to make a comeback to the state, I think the material, much like me, was trying to find out why it’s tied to Kerala,” Lakshmi adds on a concluding note.
Opens on April 21. At Kashi Art Gallery.