The Dirty Bomb of an
Iris C F Gomes
Apurva Kulkarni is a name that immediately evokes a response of acknowledgement in artistic and literary circles. A teacher for over 25 years, Apurva has curated art shows such as I am Red, Bioscope, and, more recently Kama, Interrupted. The art historian with a post graduate degree from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda has furthermore been involved in conducting courses in art history and art and film appreciation in various art galleries in Goa.
As a pioneer of performance and conceptual art in Goa, Apurva has an oeuvre that certainly offers a wealth of knowledge and comprehension of art. He spoke of his manifesto called The Manifesto of a Dirty Bomb at Kokum Design Centre, Porvorim, giving his audience insight into the mind of a man who is very much a social activist in his own right and is not afraid to echo it in his work.
The 1900s saw the emergence of the Modernist art era, and manifestoes were a much needed aid in comprehending the mystery enshrouding the artwork. The practice, though defunct in these times, or rather written but titled differently, was seen as the most apt manner for Apurva to explain his art. The manifesto began with Apurva’s attendance of the Visiting Research Professors Programme (VRPP-Goa University), as prompted by Prof Santiago Girelli who teaches Western classical music.
The Manifesto of a Dirty Bomb talks about the artist’s desire to be authentic and thus he declines to pander to the notions of beauty possessed by the world. This authenticity comes to life through elements taken from the natural world: paints, charcoal, ashes, bone, etc. His art becomes a testament to the state of the country of his birth. He decries the subjugation and humiliation of womankind, the casteism that belittles his brother citizen, senseless battles over language and creed, and all that divides and devastates his nation. He says, ‘… I am both a cauldron of possibilities and a cesspool of filth. I oppress. I rape. I am racist. I pull out my mother’s tongue and go to war with it. I juggle with my caste and creed, play snakes and ladders with it. I am a dirty bomb, imploding with all the hate in this world. Don’t ask beauty of me. Instead, I’ll be the yin to your yang.’ The toxic dirty bomb, a vehicle of disruption and fear, is a metaphor that describes most artists according to Apurva.
Apurva asserts that his art has been much influenced by his years at the Goa College of Architecture and his dabbling in theatre in the 90s. In 2001, after winning his battle with substance abuse, Apurva produced Crematorium, the result of his outrage against the denial of the cremation rights of a Dalit in Parra, near Mapusa, Goa. He set up his installation in the backyard of architect Dean D’Cruz’ old office. Using the entire space, he went about setting up his installation without a specific mapping of what he was to do but allowed ideas to flow as they came to him. It required him to sit as motionless as possible, covered with ashes, before an unplugged television from 4 to 6 pm, every day for a week. There were areas covered with colour (mainly blue and yellow), and masks, stencilled axes and so on. It was the first performance cum installation in Goa, which, with its tendency to disturb, garnered curiosity and accolades.
Apurva comments on the rampant casteism that prevails in Goa, attributing it to the concept of Goa being discovered by Parashurama, the Brahmin avatar of Vishnu who was born to slay the Kshatriyas. ‘It is not enough to say “I am not casteist”. I believe we have to be anti-casteist. To say that you are not casteist is a point where you are safe,’ says Apurva, explaining why he concentrates on these sort of issues.
The Miraculous Birth of the Hero-So pure, So Safe! (Episode 1) in 2002 was the second installation Apurva produced on the theme of how tourism has affected Goa. Here began the appearance of mandalas, which Apurva says reflect the core of his being; so also commenced the repeated use of dolls.
The Gujarat riots of 2002 were the inspiration for Homeland, which was taken to Germany besides being shown here in India. Apurva used Rabindranath Tagore’s poem Where the Mind is Without Fear as part of the installation. ‘I visualised Homeland as an epic…an epic of pain…horror,’ says Apurva.
The idea that installation artists are not like traditional artists who paint and draw is rubbished by Apurva. The installation artist needs to draw to put down on paper the progress he is to make, and even that planning can undergo tremendous changes.
None of Apurva’s installations have been put up for sale as he refuses to sell them. There is a story of how a lawyer tried with no success to purchase one of Apurva’s installations from Burn-Return to the Crematorium (2003), which was sinister and gruesome in its tone with a burnt doll on a bed of coals, in order to have it placed in his living room. Apurva offered the artwork for free but the man was adamant about paying him. Though the transaction did not take place, it assured Apurva of the impact his work was having, as the man said, ‘This is the kind of work that we should see every day to remind us of the kind of horror we are as human beings…what we are capable of.’
His unfinished project Labyrinth (Pradakshina) (2003), which he collaborated on with some of his students, demonstrates his vulnerability as an artist: a quality he feels artists should not be afraid to express.
The effect of the work of psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung, who is noted for going beyond pure science and linking astrology, alchemy and tarot with the study of the mind; TS Eliot’s The Wasteland (1922); and the mythologies of various cultures is evident in Apurva’s art.
Mandalas for Medusa highlights Apurva’s love of the mythological creature who has been long condemned as a negative figure. In Greek mythology, Medusa was turned into a Gorgon by Athena after she was raped by Poseidon in Athena’s temple. Barista, the coffee shop that commissioned drawings by Apurva, did not agree with his suggestion to have the drawings placed at the tables, standing upright like the menus. He was left with the 50 drawings he had produced using graphite powder and an eraser and he decided to exhibit them as Mandalas for Medusa.
The Grin of the Father (2004), an assemblage that tells a tale of a time of terror on political and social levels, also revisits the artist’s difficult relationship with his own father during his younger years. There is a khadi kurta with a jacket made of heads and the writing behind it speaks of beheading.
Some of the other projects by Apurva include Lila (2006), I, Proteus (2007), I am the Sketchbook (2011) and What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) (2012). After WYSIWYG, where Apurva experimented using the works of other people to create his own work of art, he arrived at a conclusion that all of us are capable of becoming artists and not just conceptual artists. ‘We can and we should create,’ says the man whose art speaks volumes in its social and political consciousness.