K.S. Radhakrishnan connects to Jaipur Literature Festival with public sculptures




Jaipur, Jan 2014  

Noted sculptor K.S.Radhakrishnan has been spearheading a campaign to give legitimacy to open air sculptures at public places in the last three decades. In 1986, one of Radhakrishnan’s early public sculptures was installed in Bikaner. The artist re-connected with the “venue” at the Jaipur Literature Festival  – one of the largest free literature gala in Asia – this week (Jan 18-21, 2014) to unveil a biographical account of his art, “In the Open: The Sculptures of K.S. Radhakrishnan” (published by Ojas Art). The volume chronicles the life and art of the sculptor – his artistic journeys, inspirations, practices and contexts of his art. Several of his sculptures were on display at the festival this week.

 Born in KOttayam in 1956, Radhakrishnan went to Shantiniketan in 1993-1994 for formal training in arts at the Kala Bhavan.

 “I have this intention of making more open air sculptures. My teacher at Shantiniketan – Ramkinkar Baij – made one of the earliest open air sculptures in 1936-1937. They were the first breathing sculptures with life of their own,” Radhakrishnan said. The artist, a native of Kerala but trained in the art movements of the Bengal school at Shantiniketan combines Ramkinkar’s abstract figures with ethnic body languages  – belonging to the ancient races inhabiting remote regions of the country, including south India.  His sculptures seem to be suspended in space – flying and breathing at the same time.

 “They are the sculptures that start with clay. The movement takes on a kind of scale but at the same time – the forms do not stay with you. They fly in open space to escape the suffocation of confines. I suppose sculptures are to be seen,” he said.      

 In India, “people don’t see too many sculptures in public sphere because they are understood to be monumental”. “A space is usually allocated for contemporary sculpture and to start with, you need a public sponsorship. Open sculptures in public places are still trying to find the right space,” Radhakrishnan said. Recalling a commission for the New Delhi government, the sculptor said in 1996, “the Delhi government had commissioned one of his sculptures for the garden of five senses.

 “But it was not the way an artist would approach the public space — I said it had to be my sculpture. I managed to get what I wanted by donating the sculpture,” he said.  Constrained resource and red tape often force artists to limit their sphere of public engagements in art to mere showpieces — sculptures which cost less money and are “visually attractive”.  Art in public realm – open spaces— is yet to open dialogue in the country on social issues linking society and communities to aesthetic interventions and “raising awareness about causes ranging from environment, gender, hygiene and even traffic”. Sculptures in public places have been known to be defaced or vandalized across India — in mindless backlashes over the efficacy “art” as spur for development in a nation of 1.2 billion where more than 40 per cent still subsist below poverty line with scant appreciation for art.

 However, author and critic Johny ML tries to address this popular insularity to the solid arts observing that “both the open air and public sculptures anticipate an audience that is not strictly expected to be seen within an aesthetic context”. The viewer for a  public sculpture vary in character, perspective, educational qualification, gender purpose and intention.  The author points out the thin distinction between open air sculptures and public sculptures. An open air sculpture can be installed in the open — but at the same time they need not be necessarily public sculpture. While a public sculpture may be in the open, it may also be in a corporate museum.

 The book which begins with a general introduction to sculptures as being as the “exterior façade of art” — applying to broader spectrums of artistic movements and landscapes, it brings in Radhakrishnan’s art practice in the context of landscapes, his training at Shantiniketan, influences and “practices”. It takes up specific sculptural forms that he created as the beginning of his career as an artist — and studies their progression and evolution as he tries to work on the same themes later in life.

 One such motif is the “Musui” — the head of a Santhali boy whom Radhakrishnan had met as a student in Shantiniketan. “Musui was a bit autistic. One day after his modeling session, Radhakrishnan gave him Rs 2. He took it happily and went away, when he came back, Musui was transformed into a new personality. He had tonsured his head and had shaved off his sparse beard and moustache. The blissful smile was intact on his face,” Johny ML writes.  Radhakrishnan was riveted by Musui’s new appearance – and made fresh models, including a bust.

 When Radhakrishnan decided to leave Shantiniketan for Delhi, he sawed off the head of the Musui sculpture and carried it to Delhi — he kept it in his study. In the 1990s, he decided to create another study of the character called Musui   — an icon for his sculptural progress. All his ensuing sculptures, the “Maiya” series, “Conch Shells” and the “Woman with Violin”, the “Musui” makes its imperceptible presence even as female protagonist. “Towards the end of 1990s, we see Musui taking centrestage in Radhakrishnan’s sculptural outputs,” the author said. The Musui continued to dominate his figurative terrain even when the artist experimented with “combination figures and multiple human forms within a single sculpture” later— compositions in which all the figures with many arms, legs and torso in one frame seemed to be in flight at impossible angles from a vertical perch or standing like flexible “reeds” in desolation .         

 K.S. Radhakrishnan understood that the “interchanging nature of public sculptures and open air sculptures”. For him, the polemic became a solution in itself when he started off with open air sculptures — inspired by Ramkinkar Baij’s iconic “Santhal Family” at Visva Bharati in Shantiniketan. He recognized the fact that a free standing sculpture negotiated “both an idea and space within a solid form”.

 The artist says “a sculpture made of enduring material like marble, bronze, steel, granite should be for public viewing rather than private viewing,” the artist observes in the book. But as a sculptor in a country like India, where art is yet to become a sustainable vocation, Radhakrishnan realizes the importance of patronage and the rationale for “keeping sculptures within the confines of private collections”.

Madhusree Chatterjee