Kavitha Balakrishnan is a rare combination of writer, poet, artist, art curator and researcher who did her post-graduation in Art History from the MS University, Baroda and commenced her career as Lecturer of Art History at Govt.College of Fine Arts, Thrissur. She is a recipient of the Soviet Land Nehru Award for painting at the age of 13 and the Lalithakala Akademi Award for her book Keralathile Chithrakalayude Varthamanam in 2007.
Her themes are universal, yet at heart she is basically a Keralite and then Indian. She strongly believes that Art constitutes the ethos of individual freedom where words and colours speak volumes and cannot be isolated. She has done research on several aspects of Art.
In an interview to Sreeni K.R , Kavitha Balakrishnan, talks about the changes in the society and her perspectives on the present changes in culture , their impact and how it affects the younger generation.
As an artist you are working on contemporary issues, focussing on the social history and practices within the locale of Kerala. What are the issues your are dealing with? As an artist I always look for a universal theme but as a citizen and an inheritor of social ethos, I am basically a Keralite and then finally an Indian. One can definitely unite all these multi-layered realities into a practising artistic language. I am engaged in that activity where there are disparities in the process. On one hand,one can not survive in Art if one is simply political in the localistic sense that we practise in Kerala. Art proposes a” potential politics (if one can call it that) of the individual.” On the other hand, Contemporary Art might seem to exist elsewhere as an investment practice. I want to engage in Contemporary Art and make it a “near to life” reality.
Which are the major issues you find these days in Kerala? The crass mediocrity and lingering pangs of feudalism. Also a refusal to accept the radical changes brought in by social reformation and revolutionary movements one century back. We feel and speak mostly in symbols (now created by the consumerist media world, earlier by semi-feudal and confused political leaders) but not through our own lived realities.
At the age of 13, you received the Soviet Land Nehru Award for Painting. What was your experience then? I painted in the biggest available paper at that time around me. I found that my picture book, created from newspaper cuttings which I had started making from the age of 6, came to be in use for my painting. I painted in water colour, much away from the academic sort of training I was receiving in those days from a private tuition teacher. I found myself evolving as an orator doing plenty of thanks-giving speeches at various receptions I got in relation to the award. In an International Camp held at Ukraine,I found that language is no barrier when communicating with children from across the globe. I was painting on a large glass wall in that camp and I started painting the trunk of a coconut tree. Before doing the branches,I wanted to change the water used to wash the brushes. I had explained to them what I had intended to paint. By the time I came back with fresh water, it was already a tree with so many branches! My little friends around me had helped me by finishing the painting task I had endeavoured ! Then I understood that verbal idea differs much from visual idea in reality.
What changes do you find these days in Russia? Currently I am not in touch with any of those friends. I got a lot of letters during the period from 1990 to 1995.Russia was in an age of transition then.By 1995, I received the last letters fom Medemenova Jamila from Uzbekisthan and Vajim from Azarbaijan.
You have published a collection of poems.What is it about? A poem is a state of mind that speaks out words with flesh, blood and beats.I have published 2 collections. Angavaalulla Pakshi (Rainbow Book Publishers Chengannur, 2004) and Njan Hajarundu (DC Books Kottayam, 2007).
Your travelogue Artek Anubhavangal got serialized in Deshabhimani weekly in 1993.Is it a cultural or a travel experience? It is a cultural experience that is shared by children,highlighting the atmosphere and activities at Young Pioneers Camp.
You are a multi-faceted person.How do you manage to carry out all your activities? The secret is sheer dedication to whatever one is doing. If you have to clean a room, clean it with vigour. When you look at a picture, look at it with attention. While bathing your little son, do it with all pleasure. When painting, go all out at it !
You have always worked on some cultural transformation.What type of changes have you seen during the globalisation days? I am yet to do powerful works.The last 10 years saw people becoming much more desirous in life,becoming unplanned and dreamy in finances. People are oriented around pleasures through consumer gadgets. I look at this new equation of pleasure-machine-love neutrally. I dont add value loaded complaints of morality on this issue. But irritating facts are altogether another matter. Globalisation is supposed to bring a liberal attitude, but I see extreme forms of fundamentalism in India.While Corporates are booming,it is also true that Poverty is booming. Middle class Malayalis are rejoicing in ample money for their landed property and their new kind of accessibility to a curious plentyness of food,clothing, jewellery, cars etc. Media doesnt want the truth at all,all they want are stories.
Cultural boundaries seem to be vanishing.What type of culture are the people in Kerala adopting? What is your comment? Cultural essentialism is not working today. People are seemingly happy and proud about their accessibility to hitherto unavailable consumer products. Thinking is not a favoured or valued activity at all. Culture exists in thinking minds. Culture is an assumed and shared value system forming through experience,but the pragmatic society now doesnt have time to think or feel shared, though thoughtlessly we engage in public discussions as if it is a great democracy going around. Kerala alone has no takes in this world. One can find oneself anywhere on a fine morning in search of a better paid job. As far as one is unimaginably high-paid, it is as if one doesnt need memory! Nothing to complain. Malayalis are always an evolving community with the ruling class around the world. Rule of money and virtual intelligence is easily grasped by us and thats a way of life too.But memory is the best human equipment,whenever we lose interest in this gluttonous money-worlds pleasures, memory will help us. The preserved and much pondered over history of humanity will help us. Culture as symbolic assumptions can suffer a let go but Culture as a huge inheritance of human experience stored in art, music,literature and politics, is of great use in this world to realise oneself and shape the future.
How will the new culture affect our young generation? Young is always energetic. Today,the young is more true to their physicality and experiences. We are also harbingers of creative inheritances... but I wonder why religion is taken for granted by part of these people,why communal elderly parties get slavish youngsters to carry weapons for them to kill people around without seeking truth in their act... there is something wrong with the young spirit in them!
Which are your major works and publications? The following are my major works: Collection of poems 1.Angavaalulla Pakshi, Rainbow Book Publishers, Chengannur.2004. 2. Njan Hajarundu , DC Books Kottayam, 2007. Art writing 1.Keralathile Chitrakalayude Varthamanam, Rainbow Book Publishers, Chengannur 2007. 2.Adhinka Keralathile Chitrakala, Bhasha Institute, Thiruvananthapuram, 2007. Memoirs 1.ARTEK anubhavangal, Vishwadarshan Publishers, 2003. Exhibitions of Paintings: Group shows 1.Soviet Information Hall, New Delhi, 1989. 2.Govt. Museum Art Gallery, Chandigarh 1995. 3.Women Artists in kerala, curated show of women painters, Contemporary Art Gallery, Kochi. 4.‘South by Southwest’, Travencore House, New Delhi, 2007. 5.‘Ophelia’ a show of water colour works, Gallery OED, Kochi, 2007. 6.‘Hide and Seek’ Gallery OED, Kochi, 2008. Solo shows 1.Contemporary Art gallery, show sponsored by Kerala Lalith kala Academy.1997.