Interview with Malavika Rajnarayan

Interview with Malavika Rajnarayan

BY ANANT ART · JUNE 15, 2016

Premjish: Could we start talking about the major visual influences behind your works? I mean the influences which act as references and source material.

Malavika: I grew up in a family of Indian classical musicians. I think this has largely shaped my aesthetic sensibilities to lean towards Indian and Asian cultural practices. Visually, my language draws a strong lineage from miniature painting traditions. I am also interested in the art of Mithila and Gond painters and how their pictorial devices feed the narratives. Chinese landscape painting, Japanese woodcuts, textile (weaving and embroidery) are also important bookmarks that I find myself revisiting often.

Premjish: ...influenced also by...any writers, thinkers, artists...?

Malavika: While I enjoy the forms of both poetry and prose from a range of literary classics, I find myself reading and listening to voices from the "developing world". I am interested in people's narratives from cultures that continue to find relevance in adapting parallel knowledge systems in order to perpetuate holistic relationships with other people and with nature. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a contemporary writer whom I find intellectually inspiring; but equally scintillating have been my encounters with patuas (pat-painters and story-tellers); people who may or may not be known in mainstream disciplines, but whose world of imagination have had me captured. There are several independent writers, thinkers, scientists, activists and artists whose work is bringing positive changes to their communities and surroundings in very meaningful ways. I find immense value in their stories to the extent that my politics and choices are influenced and shaped by these narratives. The Internet has also given us unimaginable access to choice- in viewpoints, opinions and personal expression and the onus of its judicious usage is firmly upon each of us as users. I am not sure if we are truly able to handle the extent of empowerment this has brought about. The spirit of Creative Commons and Open Source sharing in software and technology are also philosophies that I admire as progressive approaches to education and learning. I have lived in Baroda for almost 13 years and one of the main reasons that continue to keep me engaged with the city is its distinctness of open dialogue and sharing within the artist community. To build a legacy is one thing, but for a collective legacy to permeate deep into the living culture of a city is remarkable.

Premjish: You have talked about your fascination for human body and your profuse use of human figure as an outcome of your interactions with people. Have you thought of working in other styles or thought about abstraction?

Malavika: I think everyone deals with abstraction at an intellectual and subjective level. While abstraction has a specific Western art-historical positioning and understanding, the differentiation of "non-representational" art from "representational" art has hardly mattered in the visual cultures of India and other parts of Asia. I have never quite viewed it as being separate from my language, even visually. I have already made a mention of my background and close relationship with music, and it is perhaps for those reasons that an artist like Vasily Kandinsky has always fascinated me. Painting involves a consistent engagement with the formal elements and for me, the excitement is in finding the right 'pitch', 'rhythm' and 'harmony' through the visuals. I am not really interested in the physicality of body and flesh. It is personhood that triggers my explorations and the human form allows me to stay close to our being. The figures try to embody a spirit of humanness and evoke ideas that may have to do with grace, strength, fragility, femininity, communion... that is how I connect to abstraction. Its articulation might be carried by the manner in which I might stroke a line, or create a texture, or apply a translucent layer over an existing image. I have made works that don't depict the human form but its evocation finds a way into the work. deep into the living culture of a city is remarkable.

Premjish: Could you talk about the trajectory of your current work?

Malavika: A small garden that I have been tending in my home for the past couple of years has led me to many new directions in thought and practice. But in the same span of time, the area around my home has transformed from being fairly green and uninhabited to becoming a main thoroughfare with rapid urban development projects underway. As a result of this, my perception of time, movement and growth have been loosened from the grip of banal human routine, and my attention has been drawn to the impact of even the smallest human interference in nature's balance. I have also been investing some time in travelling within India to discover more of our cultures and people, with a conscious focus on generating conversations and dialogues related to cultural practices. I intend on expanding these conversations as a parallel process to my studio practice. Many observations from these dialogues have been feeding my existing preoccupations in relation to the perception of the self and its relation to other individuals, communities and the world at large. I am also interested in methodologies of self-sustenance through narratives that may pertain to personal history, gender, ecology, politics or social endeavour.

Premjish: Do you draw, sketch and make notes before the execution of your work...

Malavika: As a preparatory stage? Mostly not. I approach my drawings as independent works. On some occasions I might make a drawing of one of the images or a detail, but its articulation would vary when I use a similar image in a different piece. There are many ways in which one can express a certain idea and every version carries its own essence, which one never knows completely till the articulation is formed. So, some images do recur in the paintings over longer periods of time but they are not preparatory in nature. Improvisation has been a part of my methodology; I approach each work (drawing/ painting) like a conversation. The process demands sensitivity from me as well, to observe and respond to the painting as it pans out. It makes some room for unexpected discoveries.

Premjish: Is art making a solitary struggle, what do you think?

Malavika: Not at all; unless living life is a solitary struggle. We are all in it together. Art is made to share ideas, to forge connections, to find new ways of understanding the world and to find other expressions that can replace "struggle".

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