Size 7 Ft x 3.5 ft
Collage up-on Collage : Hunting On Godhadi
Fudging the Art-Craft Interface?
Traditional godhadis are quilts, or thin matresses. Work done during leisure time, these are not product of artisans, and the simple craft of making them remained with traditional women of different communities. Rarely, is the produce exchanged for economic gain; and these are not considered one among the established categories of textile art.
These, re -cycled joineries of layered fragments of old fabric, like applique of sorts, have running stitches of white thread which hold together the diverse pieces of cloths, creating its own regular rhythmic patterns. But, fragmentation; the very disparate visual elements, and irregular repetitions constitute the essential, overall space of a godhadi. In the imaginative patterning of fragments, symmetry, or a predetermined order is not sought for, and it is always a result of whim and chance.
Use value apart, godhadi triggers certain emotional resonances in our culture, particularly when exchanged as a gift. Like a hidden metaphoric string, they bind generations of women, symbolizing ties between grand-mothers, mothers and daughters, some times even connecting four or five generations.
Shakuntala Kulkarni chooses godhadi, as a format and as a surface for assembling painted images. To her, the object essentially evokes feelings of intimacy, love and care; invokes touch and warmth, and asserts values of togetherness and human bonding. Pertinently, these are also one of the aspects of the thematics of the painted figuration,
Displacing the traditional use value, and bringing godhadi from home to the art gallery, and exhibiting them, (either as scrolls, or as spread on the floor, or on a raised platform); the very framing of them as objects of 'Art', or the specific use of it, to be valued for their intrinsic beauty, raises different questions.
To certain viewers, 'crafty' they might seem to be, and so, their status as 'Art' a moot question. Shakuntala, one can infer, wants to address certain displacements effected in this project, while exploring the contradiction itself, and letting varied meaning levels to co- exist indeterminately. To begin with, the attempt at interpreting the format of godhadi for artistic ends itself is an interventional strategy. The very self conscious effort in collaging and devising, shift these from the object world of craft to art.
Primarily, these works may be seen as taking to the brink, the issues of 'art-craft' distinction. This is done by collapsing the painterly, and craft oriented 'non-art' skills in making 'fine art' objects,
It is valid that, for the artist, devising and painting upon an emotionally potent object format is an organic and exhilarating experience; the very aesthetic excitement inherent in combining the expressive content and qualities of craft and art.
Yet, the distinction remains intact, or un-resolved, even when formally the integration of the intrinsic qualities/sensibilities of art and craft, (symbolically as well as in terms of the use of material qualities of the object, and the plastic qualities of painting) is successful. The distinction, specifically at certain ideational levels, such as the question whether the craft oriented 'mechanical' skill will ever be counted equal to the 'creative' fine art skills remains un- tackled. The attempt in fudging, or alternatively negotiation and circumventing the distinctions of the genres of art and craft is ambivalent, and it is left to deal with its own indeterminate edginess.
However, as a proposition, even the unresolved situation could be meaning generative. The cognition of this unsure frame-work itself may be useful to the viewer in locating larger historical implications of art-craft divide, and also in re-locating it in this instance. Belonging to both and not belonging to either itself is a positive location.
Further, it is a collaborative project of a special nature, or, even could be considered as a case of co-opting. This is despite the feet of considering the inherent feminist argument for such reclamations, of bringing to visibility the unaccounted women's work from the margins. While all the pieces are arranged and painted by the. artist, it is Hirabai and her sister who have executed the stitching using their traditional skills. Their expertise was hired by the artist on a commercial basis. The question is whether their skill achieves the status/value of 'Art1? If it does, it is via the artist, and so the artisan's authorial status would be secondary. But if the artist herself had done the stitching, would the craft automatically become art?
Body, Power and Feminism.
Orchestrating material qualities of textile and the painterly elements; the very visual play between varied textiles, paint and stitches are basic to the visual impact of these works. This criterion, based on the artist's taste and sensibility, rejects the neat and sleek qualities, and explores the possibilities of hand-made ruggedness.
The balancing of spontaneity and calculated decisions; the flexible mode of separately drawing and painting the images, and then assembling them with a certain specific artistic intention lends the design a deliberateness, thus reversing the arbitrary mode of making traditional godhadis.
Iconography of the paintings, and their representational particularities, are where a certain
continuity of the specific feminist ideological intentions can he located.
The swiftly painted women images are based on just one generalized figure type. They use
only minimum gestures as they sit, walk, run or stand. Along the line are also the schematic
images, incorporated from the primitive figurative traditions.
The outer borders and the framing device of the single segments too at instances house such resonating images, often only as fragments. Apart from the bearing on the design sense, control of the near lyrical import combined with the slow rhythm, lend the representation an innate dignity.
However, on one hand Shakuntala asserts primarily the idea of alienation, dis-empowerment of women through the monotony and the repetition of the generalized figure type. They are almost faceless and mute. In fact, this aspect of representation can be traced as a continuous pre -occupation of the artist from her very early works onwards.
But, often, women are seen as painted as belonging to a community, sharing comradeship and solidarity, holding hands and making human chains, like in a tribal/folk dance. Obsessively self possessed in their bearing, they exude energy and power in community.
The nudity is confident, and the figures are conjuted-up as having full control of themselves, In fact while maintaining natural human serenity, they even appear to invoke a certain super-human import.
The painting of a single figure covering most of the space of a godhadi, achieves a distinct complex pictorial and meaning dimensions in comparison to others. The bronze like full figure, drawn deftly is tough and beautiful. Yet, it's body is infused with tender vulnerability. The abstraction of the convex contours, and the undulating rhythms, emulate the values of classical Indian sculpture. She has multiple limbs. The disjuncture, fragmentation and primitivization works effectively, and is like a counterpoint to its very vulnerable disposition, thus making it possible for an engaged viewing.
The purely visual purpose apart, the collage mode is most useful in effecting polyvalent meanings. The running white stitches (like regular brush-strokes) over the dabs of colour and images, subdue, break and distract the continuity, and contradictorily also integrate the space. Otherwise, "the pink would look too pink" states the artist. These, also serve to activise and decorate.
The use of simplified schematic figure type apart, other strategies are also employed in primitivizing the representation. Certain figures are painted in odd postures, hands placed clumsily and having wonky feet. Unexpected sudden shirts and cuts in the images, or the presentation of feet or a hand separately also breaks continuities. Some times cutting-up of the figure also helps in elongating and enlarging, or alternatively reducing the form and space. Colour mutates and balances these elements.
Most importantly, the primitivization and fragmenting the body deflate the desire implicit in the habitual gaze.
Shivaji K. Panikkar,
Baroda, August, 1998.