EDITORIAL – When a Woman Artist Stands on Her Own: Usha Ramachandran / Johny ML
Being a senior sculptor and artist has never stopped artist Usha Ramachandran from finding her way and making her mark in the art world. The simplification of the form and theme has taken Usha Ramachandran to the galaxy of bigger stars of sculpture like Brancussi and Giocometti.. says Johny ML in his Editorial today.
I have never asked Usha Ramachandran her age. But each time I see her sculptures I tend to believe that she is in her mid forties for this is the age when women stage a coming back to the making of art if they have an inclination towards plastic arts. Women who gain around twenty years of experience from marriage to helping children to stand on their own in turn lose those twenty years in active art making and often when they come back they find the scene has changed drastically. The efforts to get into the gallery circuit in the country (or maybe in any country) prove futile for them because somehow the art scene is still ruled by patriarchal values though the galleries are run by women who on behalf of the said values resist middle aged women coming ‘back’ to the art scene. There are thousands of women artists in India who are deprived of a chance to exist because they are too late for the ‘show’ and have almost missed the bus to success. The situation becomes further difficult for them if they are not academically trained. There are three handicaps of an artist: being a middle aged or over aged woman, being away from active practice for more than fifteen years and being a self taught artist, or in other words, an artist with no academic training. Some women artists, finding themselves in such a scenario, strike back with the help of a familial back up and a friendly gallerist, such a move often becomes the swan song for the artist though the exhibition/s would temporarily satisfy their need for recognition and self worth.
Going by the working style and the works of Usha Ramachandran, she is permanently in her mid forties but with a difference. A devoted sculptor of ‘ordinary’ themes and a sincere painter of worldly beauties that could transcend themselves into sublime visions, Usha Ramachandran has been working and exhibiting for the last two decades from Trivandurm, the city of bureaucrats in Kerala. She has exhibited in Mumbai, Delhi and in Kerala extensively and she has a very devoted audience and patrons who perhaps do not really care much about what happens to the genre of modern sculpture in India and elsewhere but are genuinely interested in the pristine works of Usha Ramachandran. That is a wonderful thing to happen to any artist’s life; having a group of admirers in different parts of the world. For Usha Ramachandran, gathering a friendly audience became easy with the advent of the social media. She does not make any overt statements with her works there in the social media but presents her new works with the enthusiasm of a child who shows off her precious collection of whatever. This enthusiasm of the sculptor is infectious and I believe, an imitable example for many other women artists in India who find themselves in the same situation as Usha Ramachandran.
What helped Usha Ramachandran to stand on her own is nothing but her works. Trivandrum is not a place where you have big foundries where you could cast your works in bronze. Lost wax process is a very tedious process and the facilities are available only with a few senior artists. The small scale sand casting is rarely available and is not really used for artistic purpose alone for the demand comes from some other industries. Usha Ramachandran did two things (I write it from my observations, not after talking to her): One, she decided to stick to a particular size which helps her to cast them with the available facilities in the city. That means, she in her career never became ambitious in terms of size. She has ambitions to live an artist’s life and she has found the way to live so, by doing art. Two, she found her own ways of exhibiting her works. She exhibits in small exhibition halls like the Alliance Francaise, Trivandrum, the IIC Gallery, Delhi and so on. She did not plead with the galleries to exhibit her works nor did she send CDs to the galleries to consider her works for the shows. She has been realistic about being a woman artist in the formerly discussed situations.
The immediate provocation for me to write about Usha Ramachandran and her works is seeing her works in the social media as her show is currently on in the Alliance Francaise Gallery in Trivandrum. Titled ‘To Catch a Movement, To Catch a Moment’, this show features a set of new works that Usha Ramachandran has produced during the last two years. Her last solo show was in Mumbai in 2015. The small scale bronzes have now gained an ‘Usha Ramachandran’ language. Though from the very beginning she has never been influenced by any particular artist in terms of form and style, she has remained a keen observer of all the contemporary sculptors. Recognising her physical, intellectual and spiritual conditions in the right perspective, Usha Ramachandran has tried in perfecting a visual language which could be recognisably hers. If an artist’s work is identified for her language without evoking any other artist in the viewers’ minds, then it should be taken as the ultimate success of the artist. What makes Usha Ramachandran ticks is her sober and humble resistance of the market demands. She does not work for the needs of a market. She has not just simply run after finding a trendy language so that she could be noticed among a host of sculptors in India. She just believed in what she could do and does it sincerely.
When I saw one of the works, a simplified Shiva image, posted in the facebook I was really astonished by its ability to move me. The artist has taken a lump of clay and has pressed it twice and lo…there you have a Shiva, and he is so perfect, profound and meditative. With simple suggestions of a snake hood and a crescent moon, Shiva in Usha Ramachandran’s oeuvre is a human Shiva, a Shiva who could walk with you and even play with you. You could just keep looking at him without ever feeling any kind of devotional fervour or religious fanaticism. In another work, there is a Jesus Christ with no cross to support him. But he is perfect in his own agony and the piety of the moment is captured so poignantly and elegantly by the artist. There are a few colourful sculptural images as if they have just jumped out of the drawing book of a child. Turning the figures into sort of stick figures, perhaps Usha Ramachandran is plumbing deep into her primordial memories where the primordial child in her is playing with the stick figures in absolute happiness. There is some kind of a tribal and folk feel about it. Perhaps, when an urban artist drops all pretensions she would get to that purity of the tribal and folk sensibility which is very modern and contemporary in their own way.
I started off by mentioning Usha Ramachandran’s age. After certain age the artist’s age become immaterial provided she is doing works that are simple and capable of moving the finer sensibilities of the people. The simplification of the form and theme has taken Usha Ramachandran to the galaxy of bigger stars of sculpture like Brancussi and Giocometti. Though she is not revolving around the firmament of aesthetics much closer to the orbits of these giant planets, I am sure her works help her enjoy their proximity in a constellation different than the usual ones where usual suspects revolve around the usual suns.
Editor in Chief of Art Tehelka
(images sourced from Artist’s Facebook page)