THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: At the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, I was given the honour to deliver the keynote speech, where I talked on the importance and specificity of the feminine in art and life. For this particular Biennale, the curator Anita Dube emphasised the work of women artists, and with her excellent choice of artists, an important discussion opened up — both in Kochi, and also on an international scale.
In my talk, I made a difference between feminism, incuding feminist art and feminist activism, which are political choices in the domain of the social on one hand, and what I named ‘metafeminism’, which is to do with metapsychology, metaphysical, philosophical, aesthetic and ethical questions in relation to the feminine. My art deals with the feminine, the maternal and trauma, but it is not political art.
The Kochi-Muziris Biennale is a complex exhibition composed of diverse shows with a feminist political approach in dialogue. The 21st Century will be feminine and spiritual — or wouldn’t be humane. The feminine here is not about essence, but quintessence — substance we can all reach, a face of our soul embodied. I had the possibility, following the opening and the keynote event, to continue the dialogue with a few artists. With each day, I realised more deeply — overwhelmed by India's beauty, and feeling a bit lost — that knowing this culture is a big challenge, and we are only beginning to see it. I hope to return to Kochi soon and continue this dialogue.
Beauty in zones of shock
I believe that my art has an effect, and that it gives meaning and solace — but its effects are slow, non-argumentative, and can directly reach only those who wish to self-abandon their gaze to the artwork, and desire to open themselves to be transformed by it. The aesthetics of art is proto-ethical, when it is based on compassion. From it, ethical awareness can grow, and this might contribute indirectly to society. From my notebooks that contain aquarelles, notations, fragments of things and drawings — on show at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale — I developed a philosophical and psycho-analytical theory.
This theory, which is metafeminist, can serve feminism indeed, but the notebooks as artworks came first and continue to be the primary intuitive space in which ideas are created and revealed. They are the fruits of my sleepless nights, and are closely related to my ongoing daylight oil painting. For me, the creative-artistic dimension can’t be tamed by politics.
My art involves working through traces of historical and personal trauma with abstraction, by way of compassion, which goes beyond empathy to reach beauty-as-healing or grace, beauty as a way to arise from the zone of shock, and open paths of meaning after catastrophe and loss.
It is in some ways very intimate, relating to the inner space in us, and in the painting. So mine is not a political art, even if indirectly it is, since it is relevant to the questions of what is the femininine, what is trauma and what is humane... in what ways can the symbolic and emotional weight of events that one cares for be conveyed through colour, line and forms — rendering a relief for memory traces, transgenerational traces and unconscious patterns. Thereby, this allows the viewer to become conscious, and bring forth an ethical, critical vision for the future. An artwork can contribute to politics, mostly indirectly, over time, but can’t replace it.
‘Fascism’s main ally’
Anita Dube, curator of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, reminds us of (Guy) Debord’s warning that a society living in a world mediated primarily through images is fascism’s main ally. Today, maybe more then ever before in history, the responsibiltity of artists who have been working for so long in the visual media — which is now, and for a long time already manipulated by different systems of power, by different politics of power — is weighty.
But does this claim concerning images not also applies to the case of other sensible units — audible units, for example? Perceivable ‘units’ from just any domain can become fascism’s alleys and allies; but today’s best alleys of fascism are not the images or even audible units, but the rhizomatous, chaotic horizontal hyper-linking where oblivion of the historical past approaches anaesthesia, insensitivity to suffering and a disrespect for truth, and to the importance of witnessing. In our contemporary era, when people can be highly manipulated by the virtual media — the vision of the artist, her truth, and what calls her to making artwork — all of that becomes spiritual. This interests me most.
Ethics and aesthetics
In bringing more female artists into visibility at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale from now, from earlier decades and from different generations, and letting the subject-matters and the visible forms of their work manifest themselves, the challenge is spiritual, aesthetical and ethical, as well as cultural — with a constant striving to influence, sooner or later, social and political realms.
The challenge is: how to strive for artistic expressions and formations in love — and I add, that no painting is possible without loving your subject-matter; how to strive for beauty without forgetting misery and violence, how to trust without repressing critique, and use the image as a way to resist the manic hyper-connectivity of our time... that endless overwhelming flow of images that works for ‘fascism’ and threatens to submerge us, and freeze our capacity to feel — that makes us think in compassion. The challenge is to embrace the repressed trauma and turn the traces of suffering into beauty.
To connect by love, to create beauty, means to establish passageways between aesthetics and ethics. Art is never the aesthetics, pure and simple, and it never was. Art is the site and the space where aesthetics and ethics meet by a dynamic of passion under the wings of a vision, materialised. Creating artworks in the matrix-ial feminine-maternal sphere is, for me, an opening to the other via ‘self-fragilisation’: opening towards the vulnerabilty of the other end of the earth.