Iris C F Gomes
From 13th to 17th February, Gallery Gitanjali will bring to us Kama, Interrupted, an exhibition of drawings, paintings, sculptures, installations and assemblages that propose to reinterpret the Sutra of desire. The seventy five artworks, which form the core of the exhibition, will be inaugurated by eminent psychoanalyst and writer, Dr Sudhir Kakar. The exhibition has voluntarily been rated 18+ by the organisers.
Apurva Kulkarni treads on contentious grounds as he prepares to present his latest curated art exhibition. The political atmosphere, as it is today, subscribes to Victorian Age prudery. We, Indians, enjoy the pretence that there is no such thing as sex and refuse to address concerns of sexuality and sexual desire. By feigning asceticism, we hope to portray ourselves as virtuous beings, on a higher rung than our Western contemporaries. A section of the Indian population, enlightened by education and experience, has opened up to the reality of Kama or desire. These would best comprehend the message that Apurva Kulkarni is attempting to send across. And perhaps, the exhibition could contribute in some terms to alter prejudiced minds.
This reinterpretation of the Sutra of desire was conceived by Kulkarni, a well-known artist and art historian in his own right. He graduated from the Goa College of Art in 1985 and obtained a post graduate degree in art history in 1988 from MS University, Baroda. A teacher with twenty five years of experience, he has taught art, art appreciation, art history and cultural studies since 1990, at the Goa College of Art, the Goa College of Architecture and Kala Academy's College of Music. He pioneered curated exhibitions in 1985 and his latest offerings of note include I Am Red (2010), based on Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (2012) and a tribute to hundred years of Indian cinema, Bioscope (2013).
Apurva Kulkarni’s association with Gallery Gitanjali and its director, Miriam Koshy-Sukhija, began in 2010, with Kulkarni conducting courses in art, film appreciation and art history there on a regular basis. It was at this gallery that he decided to bring to fruition the concept that became part of his consciousness in 2011, after his reading of Sudhir Kakar and Wendy Doniger’s translation of the Kamasutra. However, it would take two curated shows before he could approach and materialise the idea predominant in his thoughts.
Sudhir Kakar’s translation helps us understand Vatsayana’s Kama Sutra as more than a tutorial on sexual postures. The Sutra addresses other issues aside from intimate relations between men and women and gives advice on human behaviour in general too. It is pertinent to observe that sexuality was not suppressed by religion or society in ancient India. There are modern day concerns regarding sex and sexuality, which were present even during the time of Vatsayana, and are reflected within this text.
Kulkarni was intrigued as to what the artistic interpretation of the Sutra would be and hence brought together eighteen artists of substantial talent to meet the challenge. It was imperative to have the creative output of a large group of artists as this would enable the expression of varied points of view. ‘I wanted that difference …I wanted artists who can debate through the medium of paint and sculpture,’ explains Kulkarni. The artists range in age, from some of the oldest to the youngest, delivering the perspectives of different generations. Kulkarni reasons, ‘… we have different ideas and approaches about sex and sexuality, don't we? And the world has changed since the text was written in the third century. I wanted different viewpoints – even opposing viewpoints – including views which oppose mine as well.’
There are paintings that concentrate on the spiritual aspect of sex, dealing it a connotation that moves beyond physical pleasure to a higher plane, while some display the celebration of raw eroticism and sensuality. The artwork is also evocative of socially significant issues, especially the hypocritical attitude of society towards matters related to sex.
Among the eighteen artists involved in the exhibition are Osborne Carvalho, an illustrator who has exhibited internationally; Praveen Naik, who has equal talent in painting, sculpting and set designing; winner of the Harmony Award for the Emerging Artist, 2001, Rajeshree Thakker; award winning sculptor, Verodina Ferrao and the legendary Vamona Nalvecar.
Apurva Kulkarni's preference of Goa as the venue for his curated shows deems that he work with Goan artists or at least artists based in Goa. He says, ‘…they may not necessarily be Goan by birth, but could be by nature, as I am.’ Goa may be a cultural hub but Kulkarni believes there is much more that can happen here by way of artistic representation. He is eager to have as many shows as possible, ‘… in Goa, for Goa, about Goa!’ He says, ‘It is my desire as a fierce advocate of the arts that we in Goa can truly know and feel what humanity is through a sustained exposure to the arts,’ revealing his passion for Goa and the arts.
Broaching the topic of conservative backlash, Kulkarni is confident that though there may be the occasional painting or other artwork that could go against the sentiments of some, Goan civil society will not react aggressively, given that it is sensitive and humane. He, however, deplores the fact that vulgarity in the entertainment media is allowed to flourish with impunity. Serious art becomes the casuality, constantly fending off blows dealt to it. ‘The show talks of Kama (desire) being interrupted, based on views shared by the artists pictorially and sculpturally. How can anyone contest that? Look around you and you will see that love and desire is being disrupted and shamed,’ he says. He contends, ‘I am making a strong case that we have to come back to our senses and the arts is one road to reach that destination.’