Katharina Kakar highlights gender issues through art

Mixed media
Last Updated 25 November 2015, 18:39 IST

Art allows for a different space to look into sensuality and sexuality and at times stirs up a dialogue more intense than the written word,” feels German artist Katharina Kakar who is addressing gender issues of violence and repression in her debut show ‘Crossing the Lakshmana Rekha: Shakti, Sensuality, Sexuality’, using motifs like pepper, chillies, cloves and coconut.

“Visual art speaks a different language, at times blunt but often more indirect compared to words or text, which gives the viewer an opportunity to position himself for herself and respond to it in very subjective ways,” Kakar tells Metrolife.

“It was important for me to not only address gender issue of repression and violence, but also point to women’s powers and strength, their sensuality and desires, which so often are ignored in public debate,” she adds.

This mixed media installation is mounted at Visual Arts Gallery and art historian Alka Pande has curated the show that looks at different aspects of femininity.

Born in Germany, Kakar moved to India with her husband, renowned writer and psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar, to settle down in Goa. She sees herself as a cultural “bridge-builder” who understands constantly shifting realities. “I feel very much at home in India, a country that has a rich cultural heritage and diversity. A country where “the relational” — the way people take care of each other — is of great importance in daily life.”

“It is a country with a tradition of controversial debates in politics and philosophy and it is also a country with great contradictions and extremes,” she adds.

The issues addressed through works like ‘Crossing the Lakshmana Rekha’ an installation created out of wax body parts refers to Lakshmana drawing a line which Sita is not allowed to cross; a three-piece installation ‘Memory of the Future (Missing Girls)’ hints at female foeticide; and ‘Desire’, a wall-hanging made of copper, horsehair, pepper, chillies, cloves and acrylic paint relates to the silenced subject of
female sexual needs.

These discomforting artworks have stemmed from personal experiences, as well as of Indian friends. “Having made India my home for more than 12 years now, I feel I need to respond to these experiences. Why is a woman not allowed to occupy public space and loiter, as men do? Why is she considered a slut, when she is expressive about her desires or feels comfortable in her body and shows it? There are so many questions we do need to address again and again to push the dialogue around gender issues.”

Kakar was exposed to art from early childhood and studied comparative religion and anthropology. She has also written books on gender issues and taught students. All these varied experiences have shaped her outlook and that idiom comes across very strongly in her works, ever since she took to full time art in 2012.

She feels gender disparity and women-related crimes are more visible now, the media and public is much more aware, crimes are reported more often and that’s adds to the feeling that violence is escalating. “Women’s mobility and education in urban spaces – the sheer number of young women demanding to be agents of their own lives - is becoming a force that can be no longer ignored, giving rise to conflicts and stirring up debates in so many directions,” she says.

“This visibility of independent, self-confident women, who break with the cultural contract to be born to serve others, stirs up violent reactions. Not just because social contracts have to be renegotiated between the sexes, but also, because the urban spaces in India experience a clash of culture,” she says.

The exhibition Crossing the Lakshmana Rekha: Shakti, Sensuality, Sexuality is displayed at Visual Arts Gallery till November 30.

(Published 25 November 2015, 15:31 IST)

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