Veteran artist Sudhir Patwardhan's work, at the Kochi Muziris Biennale, is a rumination on migration, language, nature, and the links between the past, present and future
By Shevlin Sebastian
Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram
“Isn't the view fantastic?” says the Baroda-based artist Rekha Rodwittiya.
“Yes it is,” says artist Sudhir Patwardhan, as they both stare at the sea.
They are standing on a first-floor verandah of the Aspinwall House, a prime venue of the Kochi Muziris Biennale. Rekha then goes inside and observes, with rapt attention, Sudhir's triptych, 'Building a Home: Exploring the World'.
“It's wonderful,” she says.
Indeed, the 15' x 5 1/2' acrylic on canvas is a wonderful rumination on nature, language, the links between the past, present and future as well as migration. Right at the top of the left panel, there is an excerpt from a poem on migration called 'Time to Fly' by British poet Ruth Padel:
'You go because the cold is coming,
Spring is coming, soldiers are coming.
Plague, Flood, an Ice Age,
A new religion, a new Idea.
You go because you have the kingdom of heaven in your heart
And the Kingdom of hell has taken over someone else's heart.'
Beneath it there is an image of an African woman as well as an old man trudging up a hill. In the background, there is a river which is snaking across the landscape, beside a town which has gone up in flames. And at the far distance, there is a modern warship on a sea.
“The migration of the human species to all parts of the world began from Africa,” says Sudhir. “The old man resembles someone who had to leave his village suddenly because of violence, like in Syria or Iraq. This is symbolised by the burning fires as well as the warship in the Gulf.”
Migration is a perennial theme in the history of man. “Many of us have migrated from our ancestral villages,” says Sudhir. “In my case, my family moved from the Sangli district in Maharashtra to Mumbai. Later, my son moved to the USA.”
In the middle panel, Sudhir has recreated the iconic Tower of Babel painting by Pieter Bruegel (1525-69). And leaning on it is the incomplete Tatlin Tower, which had been commissioned in 1919 to be put up in Petrogad, Russia by architect Vladimir Tatlin. And in a deft touch both these structures have been placed on the island of Fort Kochi. “These structures represent Man's aspirations for an unified world, without class differences,” says Sudhir. “Language is like a home. The people who share a language belong to one home.”
And at the right side, a double helix, of the DNA, made famous by scientists, Francis Crick and James Watson, extends to the third panel. “What is the language of science?” says Sudhir. “Is it a universal language? Can extraterrestrial beings understand it also?”
In the third panel, astronauts, holding a golden disc, are floating in space, right next to planet earth. At a distance, buildings can be seen on another planet. Interestingly, Sudhir has borrowed this image from artist Jyoti Basu.
“A gold disc was sent on the Voyager 1 and 11 spacecrafts,” says Sudhir. “It is intended to communicate the story of our world to extraterrestrials. Today, the earth is our home, but in another hundred years there may be humans who may have never been to earth. Their parents might have settled on another planet and children would have been born there. Like the Indian diaspora today. There are third and fourth-generation Indians living in the US who have no idea of their mother country.”
Apart from this, on another wall, there is a set of framed lithographs, called 'Encounters in Time'. These are images of people, with different types of headgear and masks. Sudhir had been inspired by a Vermeer painting called 'Maid Pouring Milk', as well as an anonymous Deccani miniature of a gentleman with a beard and a cap. There are a couple of faces with no eyes. “I wanted to indicate that this is a spiritual person,” he says. “And it is about looking inward, rather than outwards. Overall, it is an imaginative take of encountering people from the past as well as the future.”
(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)