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A remarkable feature of contemporary culture is the shift of focus from the mainstream of the metros to the peripheries of the multiple terrains. The deliberate attempt to concentrate modern art practices on the rural that had begun with Santhiniketan in the early decades of the twentieth century, is something which still remains unparalleled. Though the context is different, the much discussed contemporary art practices of the urban main stream are slowly dissolving and various streams of diversities are emerging.

Not getting mapped has perhaps been the fate of many regional art practices of the last century, but that cannot be said of the present. Among the new emerging centres of contemporary art in India, Kerala is a significant area of activities. Over the years such a formation has been taking shape at various levels. The migration of artists from Kerala to other centres, the resettlement of artists educated elsewhere, the national and state art camps with specific objectives, the opening of exhibition centres, new art schools, and a major exhibition of artists of Kerala in three major cities recently (Double Enders)1 - all these contribute to the mapping of Kerala as an active place in contemporary Indian art.

Among the factors mentioned above the art camps organised with specific objectives perpetuated the discourses in contemporary art, touching upon various spheres of approach of the art of the country and of the world. The presence of artists like A. Ramachandran, Bhupen Khakar, Gulam Mohammed Sheik, Paramjit Singh, Sudhir Patwardhan. S. G. Vasudev, Arpana Kaur, Surendran Nair, Prabhakar Kolte, and V. Ramesh2 to mention a few, in many of the art camps/seminars initiated dialogues with the young contemporaries of Kerala on a wide scale. The sprouting of little groups and exhibitions throughout the state did contribute in one way or the other to the discourses, and, in establishing the presence of contemporary art practices in the absence of an economy that is focal to the mainstream art. Existing in a highly informed society on the one hand and away from the market on the other is perhaps a specifically dual experience that regions like Kerala has had to live with. Working together in small groups and in associations also generates significant discourses, and as Sadanad Menon puts it ‘The positives are its moments of interactive and dialogic process, which invites interpellation of form, technique, colour and content helping to trigger off risky quests.’

The three cgh earth art camps - the South Indian Painters camp, the women’s art camp and the national art camp - aimed at such an objective. They were also an initiative to bring artists working in various regions together for a creative dialogue. Here there were painters who belong to self-trained disciplines, diverse academic circles, those who work seriously but keep a low profile and those who belong to established domains of contemporary art in the country.

The existence of the plurality of art practices of many regions and many schools reinforces a democratic space for mutual survival and tolerance. While accepting that the liberal generosity of accepting everything and promoting everything is projected by the ideology of pluralism it is ironical that we have to remind ourselves time and again not only to accept sincere forms of expression but also to allow them breathing space in the vast arena of multiple art practices in a country like India. A close personal enquiry into the painting practices definitely reveals passionate involvement of the self with the medium in interpreting the problematic situation today. As the inquires grow deeper and mature, the concepts begin to develop and reach territories fairly removed from the places of their origin. Such transformation in the act of painting might trap artists into formalistic and thematic trendiness of contemporary art dominant in the mainstream. The efforts at surface modulations of painting beget opening up pictorial planes through punctures and slashes, the struggle to construe a language through articulating traditional pictorial motives, the exercise of juxtaposing idealised figurative forms within patterns of colour on the one hand and photo realistic flavours of a figurative genre on the other. These perhaps are the characteristics in general terms.

The women artists of various places in the country working in these camps have generated a significant body of works. As they are vehemently opposed to the concept of a “women artists’ camp” and to the classification of gender compartments, the discourse of a feminist language is ruled out. Claiming that ours is a period of post feminism many of the participants expressed that they refuse the very concept of the ways of seeing through feminist frames. Even though the interactions belonged to such an ideology of ‘beyond feminism’ one also sees the strong impact of feminist iconography of exposing the artifice of gender at least in some works. Homita notoriously constructing an image unfamiliar in her earlier works reflects the very idea of gender postures. In a sense such kind of an image could be a possible alternative rather than a lingering on into the metaphors of fruits and knives, nails and hammers within the corridors of psychological nuances of male-female tensions.

The refusals of metaphors belong to both modern and postmodern of the established domains. Perhaps the alternative to be shared in the context of this exhibition is to be aware of the fact that the concept loaded metaphors do reduce the issues of the complex problematic into simplified structures of image making practices. Instead of unveiling the objectivity of metanarratives of the present such metaphors declare the fate of craft-objects that claim the heavy presence of shallow concepts.

Ajayakumar