Profile: Kuldip Karegaonkar / A Bright Sunrise for Tomorrow / Sushma Sabnis
As the wails of farmers’ families swish past deaf ears that govern, artist Kuldip Karegaonkar’s sensitive works capture the unspoken silences between tradition which anchors and hope that rejuvenates in arid lands..observes Sushma Sabnis
In the much acclaimed Marathi film, ‘Gabhricha Paus’ (The Damned Rain) addressing the farmer suicides in Maharashtra, when a strong willed and hopeful farmer tries to tap into the electrical transmission wires overhead to run his farm equipment, only to be fatally electrocuted, the viewer is left unsure if it was a mere accident, a disguised suicide or worse a planned execution by the feudal lords. Such a ghastly predicament is rampant in our times even as we see reportage of the farmer suicides every day in the news papers and social media. Sadly bad news is shared faster than good news.
However, between these verbal missives of bad news, are shared deep silences and tiny footnotes of joy, which accidentally spill into the unsuspecting, but willing ear. They sing a different tune which may light up dark minds and illuminate hopeless hearts. These are the tiny tunes which artist Kuldip Karegaonkar creates a symphony with in his sensitive art works.
“My work reflects the perspectives of life in an agrarian land which has gone dry due to various reasons. I have worked in the fields with my parents as a kid, and the aroma of fertile earth mixed with the scent of the freshly cut harvest, still remains with me. But today the green has turned to grey but like the earth the farmer community believes in regeneration..” he says.
The lives led by the farmer community in the Parbhani region, where he lives has been a huge influence on Kuldip’s works. While his works are primarily pen and ink on paper drawings he also works in oils and acrylic on canvases. The earlier works of the artist are informed by a leaning towards the textual nuances, which create a variety of forms which dominate the compositions. The palette is vibrant, bold, and a lot of the colours from rural areas crop up in the works.
“There is nothing more comforting than to walk back home after a full work day in the field, with the sun setting on your back and your green field gently swaying in the evening breeze, bathed in the golden twilight. These are the colours of my earlier works. Also the colours of the village fairs and clothes of the people, unafraid to wear the brightest of reds and yellows, unlike in cities where there is one dominant colour for a season.” he smiles.
Though Kuldip’s works flag out the harsh realities of survival of the farming communities, his works also get tinted with nostalgia while bringing into focus the beauty and simplicity of this life. In some of his works, the mounds of freshly harvested crops are laid in colourful piles which are first distributed to twelve sections of society, the ‘balutedars’ irrespective of their caste and creed. This is seen as an offering of respect to all those who are needed to make a village prosper, when the farmer ‘feeds’ all communities without prejudices. This custom although adhering to tradition also portrays the autonomous entity of a village. This act of sharing what one toils over with the others in the village, without putting one’s profit making first is what sets apart the village unit. Kuldip taps into these sensitive narratives and brings them into his works. In an era of selfie-ish ‘virtual sharing’ this actual reality of sharing what little one has among fellow human beings has an essence of a Gandhian thought in applied reality. It nurtures the goodness in people, it encourages tolerance and builds ties and bridges across differences in a society.
When the fields of cotton are in bloom, the visual is of white puffy flowers over the brown of the branches and the dark soil often creates a palette which the artist has over the years grown to imbibe in his recent works. The rows of cotton plantations are given a texture with letters of the Devnagari script to create depth and perspective to the vast field.
In another work, commemorating the death of farmer he knew personally, his palette makes a steady change from the vibrant to the sombre grays, blacks and whites. He calls it a ‘maturity’ brought on by relating to a circumstance. He uses the text of a poem written by a village school teacher inspired by a suicide note of the farmer. This poetic verse is laid to rest alongside the images of cotton flowers which have turned black due to drought and acid rains. A dark moon and dried cracking fields create an ominous landscape.
“What strikes me as beautiful is the spirit of these communities. No matter how harsh the year has been, they celebrate every festival, each day the women folk gather under the shade of old trees and spend hours talking about their lives. This sharing is unlike the sharing of posts on Facebook or Twitter, this is intimate, honest and supportive.” he laughs
In an area where the male population is fast diminishing, it lands upon the shoulders of women folk in the society to bear the burden of keeping a society from disintegrating. The original culture of former societies designed by the ancestors, which believed in the goodness of the human being, kinship and supporting each other in times of crises, can still be seen in the villages. Kuldip has also worked with some local women’s societies who help widows of the devastated families to earn a dignified living making quilts. Kuldip has with the help of one such society, created an installation work in the form of a quilt. The work is cut in the shape of a poem about the earth as a mother and how the famers and their families revere her. These letters are similar to Kuldip’s paintings and the textures stand out in three dimensions in the quilt work.
One would notice that the artist’s lettering has changed over the years in form; the once sharp and cutting letters on the canvas have now mellowed into soft and intermingling tones of understanding and resilience. The bright colours overlap translucent grey tones or umbers. He believes he sees the earth as a grown up now, though for the earth he would still be her little child.
Artist Kuldip Karegaonkar’s works base their anchor in harsh reality as much as undeniable traditions and though the setting of the sun does not stop for anyone, this artist believes in a bright sunrise for tomorrow.