This show constitutes two breaks in Shakuntala Kulkarni's work. The first is a break away from water colours and the second a break away from the two-dimensional picture. While her mixed media works on paper explore spaces other than the domestic spaces of her earlier works, her acrylic on canvas works actually articulate these other spaces into the third dimension. Coming off the wall, they stand erect or lie horizontal in varied relationships with each other, inviting the viewer also to establish his own links with the constructions.
These canvas constructions evoke, very clearly, the ambience of theatre. It is an ambience with which Kulkarni has for long been familiar, through her early work with Badal Sircar, her connection with Satyadev Dubey and his Theatre Unit productions of the early seventies and most importantly her association with Amol and Chitra Palekar and their group Aniket. The productions which had the greatest impact on her imagination were the path breaking "Gochee" (1972) and the one act plays of Diwakar (1975). The predominant greys and blacks, the-framing of figures, the presence of shadowy observers, all add up to suggestions of auditorium and stage. By a happy chance, the motifs of curtain and rubber plant which were once props in Kulkarni's plays of domestic space, here turn into the wherewithals of public performance. By a further extension, the constructions themselves could quite easily be used as props in a real enactment.
Each construction invites its own viewer movement. In the two pieces where one vertical canvas is placed before another, the figures at the back reveal themselves dramatically as the viewer walks across. In another, where two canvases are joined at right angles, the spaces evoked within the canvases telescope or flatten with the quarter-circle movement the viewer describes around them. The figures themselves are unmoulded, caught mid-gesture, mid-posture," like intermediate pictures in a flip-book, awaiting animation.
Though these constructions are, in themselves, probably theatre memories recollected on canvas, divested of drama and imbued with a kind of solemn serenity with the passage of years', they suggest a possibility of rewarding interaction between theatre and painting which seems already to have begun in the city. In the old days there were scene painters in theatre. Then drop curtains went out and with them went scene painters. Since then, the painter has played no role in Indian theatre, Kulkarni's canvas constructions might excite the theatrical imagination enough for a revival of the mutually invigorating collaboration between the plastic and the performing art.
Published in the catalog essay, 1994