In the middle of a bare room, a rickety bed serves as the stage for the drama of childhood. A father and a child wrestle with sleep, sheltered from the outside world within the gossamer cascade of a mosquito net. The tousled bedspread bears the marks of their play: when passive, the girl is lulled to sleep in her father’s arms; other times, the father resigns himself to her wakefulness. The intimacy of a father and a daughter’s relationship, captured in this series of ten paintings, sets the tone of Siji Krishnan’s exhibition, 0 + 0 = 0 (my father’s mathematics), which opens at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke this fortnight.
The show is based on the 29-year-old painter’s life, and is a cathartic exploration of the memories of her father who passed away in 2008. The dark, delicate paintings appear like moments remembered or imagined through the prism of anguished longing. “The pain is inside me. Nobody can understand it,” Krishnan told Time Out in a phone interview from Hyderabad, where she lives. “It’s not going away from me. The only way to recovery, to release this pain, is through painting.”
The title refers to Krishnan’s father’s profession; he was an accountant. The artist used zero to allude to the entries she found in her mother’s diary where days upon days were marked with the number, occasionally accompanied by the word “empty”. The formula in the title evokes the emptiness that the artist – and her family – has felt since the demise of her father, she said. “He could understand me in many ways,” she said. “I was very attached to him.”
The most explicit expression of grief is seen in Ophelia, in which the artist casts herself in the role of the ill-fated heroine of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Modelled after John Everett Millais’s lush 1852 painting, Krishnan’s version retains the imagery but draws out the colour from the landscape. The stricken protagonist floats on a grey pool whose murky waters pull her down to its dark core.
As in Ophelia, Krishnan’s palette remains dark through most of the show. But in works such as Transparency it acquires the dreamy quality of night-time sky. In this series of five paintings, central motifs drawn from nature, like a leaf, a nest, a feather, a seed and a flower, appear to float against a dark background punctuated by stars. Each of the motifs contains a female figure, cocooned within its papery membranes. “The present body of works reveals Krishnan’s reminiscences as an infant child, a soft, supple doll, a daughter, and the transformation from this infantile child into an adolescent girl, and then a youthful young woman,” wrote artist Rakhi Peswani in an essay on the exhibition, noting the progression between the paintings. In Transparency, nature allows the female figure to blossom, while in Ophelia, it envelops and reclaims her in her uncontrollable grief.
Krishnan’s turn towards nature, and the theme’s intersection with her continued engagement with her memories of her father, is at the centre of 0 + 0 = 0. Since her MFA at the Sarojini Naidu School of Fine Arts in Hyderabad, which she completed in 2007, Krishnan’s works have focussed on her father. Earlier works, seen in Paternal Instinct (2010), directly dealt with the father figure. In that show, Krishnan conflated gender roles, giving the male protagonist conspicuous pink breasts in order to suggest that she saw her father as a nurturer.
Soon after, in works presented at the 2011 India Art Summit, Krishnan picked up the motif of the spider web. In that series, she also introduced a gamut of insects entangled in twigs and thorns draped by the lacework threads of the web. The artist even painted faces onto some of the creatures. Though the imagery appeared removed from her life, the intent was still to represent the autobiographical. Krishnan described its use in a concept note: “Like a spider, I began to enjoy the process… of making the web with the material from the domain of one’s self. Just as the web is an extension of the spider.”
Her use of materials from the world around her can be seen in her current works, too, such as Seeds (faces), in which human faces are painted onto jacaranda seeds. When she first chanced upon the seeds, the artist said she saw faces in them, which compelled her to make the paintings. They are akin to selfportraits, she added. In another work, Skirt, a female figure emerges out of a heap of seeds. Though the two paintings don’t directly allude to the painter’s attachment to her father, they do evoke the melancholy and isolation she has sought to express in her work. “I want to talk about the emptiness I feel,” Krishnan said.
By Zeenat Nagree on August 03 2012 4.19am