The Power Within

Iris C F Gomes

From anthropologist to writer, from NGO (Tara Trust) founder to artist, Katharina Kakar has donned many mantles and excelled in them all. However, it is art that fires up her passion in every other area. ‘I am just driven by it. Art has always been my oxygen,’ she says. Her mother was an artist and, as the daughter of an artist, Katharina’s own foray into the world of art was anticipated. The influence of art was all pervasive in her life, with her mother taking the family to exhibitions which developed Katharina’s sense of ‘seeing’. She and her siblings were also encouraged by their mother to experiment with different things and exercise their creativity.

Despite the expectations, Katharina chose to study Anthropology and Comparative Religion in Germany. It has been a few years since she came back to art as a full-time occupation, and in doing so she has come full circle. The journey of research, teaching, writing and social work she has made to this point now serves to enrich her art work.

Flow of Power- Shakti| Sensuality| Sexuality is Katharina’s new exhibition of twenty mixed media installations at Gallery Gitanjali, Panjim. It centres on sensuality, sexuality and power in connection with women. The artworks are luxuriant in the interpretations that arise from them and, moreover, have aesthetic appeal.

Katharina has had a longstanding interest in women’s issues and has written about them at length. The theme of the exhibition allowed her to explore the new visual objects that could be used for artistic expression and address and question the rules women are subject to in a patriarchal society. For example women are derided if they assert their sexuality; they are demeaned if seen apart from the company of a male family member; and they have to suffer the absence of the guarantee of safety. ‘I think art is a powerful tool to stir debates and draw the viewer into themes that matter,’ says Katharina.

Unheard is a mixed media artwork that echoes the repressed anger at injustice that Katharina has witnessed in her social work with women. The piece consists of the mouths of two copper pots on a waxy surface which is covered with wax ears. The insides of the copper pot mouths glow with an orange light every time a person goes by it, giving it the semblance of a churning volcano about to erupt. It represents the burden of suffering that women have to bear, the power women hold within them and the need for their stories to be heard.

Another installation called Hung Out to Dry consists of 13 delicate plastic vaginas attached with clips to a stainless steel frame just as one would do with laundry. These vaginas evoke the image of female sexuality so often ignored or supressed beneath a deluge of household responsibilities.

Screw You! reflects the contemptuous and derogatory attitude towards women who defy the norms set by a male centred society. The installation is made up of wax female heads of a reddish purple colour that have copper nails driven into them, indicating the defiance of these women against the existing culture and how much these women are ‘screwed’ by society.

Katharina uses spices, dried fish, and objects that have been thrown away in her art installations. She incorporates metal such as copper, iron or bronze in her work to a great extent. ‘In general, I am inspired by my environment and by materials I see and find. I collect all kinds of stuff – often things others will consider garbage or not worth looking at. I store and label what I find and then suddenly one day the stuff becomes part of a work,’ she says.

The processes of creation differ from artwork to artwork. At times it is a well thought out procedure and at other times accidents reveal artistic insight. Hung Out to Dry was the result of one such accident where experimentation with plastic led to a new idea. However, she usually makes notes of the ideas that come to her which will eventually evolve into a project. It takes an immense amount of musing, playing with material, creating and destroying before the final product is created.

Moving from the conventional painting and drawing of her teenage years, Katharina has opted for mixed media installations and conceptual work. It draws her interest as it permits her to test and try out different objects and concepts, and it underscores issues and themes she considers significant. She says, ‘Mixed media might or might not be the future of my work. I do not know. Right now I am in a phase of intense experimentation with different materials. Perhaps it will continue to be so… perhaps I will focus on just a few materials.’

Katharina’s main motivation driving her work is the desire to stoke discussion on topics concerning women. She hopes to encourage women and the younger generation to take a stance on controversial themes like female sexuality. ‘I hope to contribute to a dialogue, where one can discuss themes with curiosity and openness,’ says Katharina.


The exhibition  Flow of Power- Shakti| Sensuality| Sexuality will continue till the 19th of April 2016.