Published in The Telegraph, 2004

Even when Pushpamala N. worked as a sculptor, she broke out of the Henry Moore mould and opted for figurative work. The narrative movement was very strong when she was studying at MS University in the late 70s, and she was deeply influenced by the work of K.G. Subramanyan, Ghulam Sheikh and Bhupen Kakkar. She says her sculpture was minimalistic and conceptual, and when she did a show after the Bombay riots and Ayodhya, she used base material to stress decay, decomposition and destruction?

Then she hit a dead end, and gradually branched into performance-based art where she could explore and exploit her various interests in sculpture, literature and social sciences. Pushpamala is in town now to exhibit photographs of her performances taken by freelance photographer Clare Arni, who though from the UK, lives in Bangalore and has spent a good part of her life in the south. The exhibition is on at the Seagull Arts and Media Resource Centre.

The current project on which the two collaborated, Native women of South India: Manners & Customs are takes on notions of real and unreal, fakes and the genuine article, double images, photographer and the photographed. While she indulges in her love of performances during the shoot, she injects humour into her work, cocking a snook, as it were, at stereotypes. “I like the mobility of it. I work in a series. It is not ponderous,” she says.

Pushpamala puts her statuesque figure to good use, though at the end of it she is standing things on their head, for each exhibit has a whole range of references which she playfully improvises. For instance in the earlier, Phantom Lady she had exploited the thriller style, Fearless Nadia of Hunterwali fame, the idea of twins and doppelgangers and the site as well an old Parsi flat in Bombay.

For her current project Pushpamala appears as Lakshmi and a woman with pitcher on head as in Ravi Verma oleographs, as a Toda woman in a shawl, recreating the notorious ethnographic documentation by the British. Sometimes with Clare Arni or a friend, Pushpamala turns into a police mug shot or Amrita Sher-Gil paintings in which she had explored black and white themes. Arni’s photographs of the two of them in action along with other artisans (striking black and white shots) are as intriguing as the bazaar photos where she spoofs ads or the images she recreated.

Published in The Telegraph, 2004
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