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The voices within
Completing his graduation at the College of Fine Arts, Trivandrum (1982), and Masters at the MS University, Baroda (1984), Rimzon proceeded to obtain an MA in Sculpture with distinction from the Royal College of Art, London (1989). An early member of the 'Radical Movement’ of the 1980s in Indian art, he, along with other like-minded artists, sought to bring art closer to the masses, and highlight the issues and aspirations of common people in a politically-charged milieu. He was also among the young sculptors who used public spaces and large-scaled installations to initiate an artistic discourse with the community at large. While retaining the same commitment and vigour of his younger days, Rimzon has allowed his art to evolve in more ways than one, winning critical acclaim and popular acceptance.
Rimzon’s works have featured in national and international events including the Venice Biennale (1993); the Second Asia Pacific Triennale of Contemporary Art (1996); and 'Edge of Desire: Recent Art in India’, Perth Cultural Centre (2005). He has had one-man exhibits in Delhi, Kochi, Amsterdam and New York. Every distinguished publication and research paper on contemporary Indian sculpture has made reference to Rimzon’s work in some form or the other. For all his achievements, the 60-year-old Thiruvananthapuram-based artist maintains a relatively low profile and generally shuns the spotlight.
In a freewheeling interaction, Rimzon spoke to Sunday Herald recently and shared his views on art and life. Here are some edited excerpts:
On his entry into art college
For a young boy from a sleepy village, Kakkoor, in Ernakulam district, Kerala, joining the art college was almost an act of rebellion since my parents did not approve of it. The art college had just started; I got admitted in the very first batch. None of us in the class knew what future would hold after we passed out. But we were able to build a sense of camaraderie, share ideas, and also get involved in socio-political movements dominated by the leftist ideology of the 1970s and 80s.
On crossing the borders of Kerala
Leaving Kerala after graduation and going to Baroda was a continuation of our rebellious attitude. We were helped by a common goal, idealism and hope which, in turn, facilitated our sticking together. We did face enormous challenges to creatively and financially sustain ourselves as artists, especially as sculptors. But we somehow managed to keep the spirit alive.
Our first big break came in 1985, when Vivan Sundaram curated a show titled 'Seven Young Sculptors’ at the Rabindra Bhavan, New Delhi, comprising artists who had studied in Baroda. It gave a real boost to all of us who saw art as a passionate activity, and not something mysterious, a-historic, aesthetically isolated and somewhat sacrosanct bustle.
On his stint at the Royal College of Art
Going to London on an Inlaks Foundation scholarship was a lucky break for me. There I was exposed to a totally different model of learning and art practice. Since it took me away from the commotion of the Indian art scene, I was also able to re-think, re-affirm and consolidate many of my ideas on art and life. When I returned to India, I chose to settle in Delhi and stayed there for almost seven years before heading to Kerala.
On his approach to image making
My work is essentially figurative, but not a literal representation of man and nature. I draw my inspiration from childhood memories; personal experiences and societal happenings. Rituals, festivities and social events have all influenced my artistic outlook as have many intimations of human body, actions and conditions.
Spirituality too has been one of my abiding interests, but never in any strictly religious sense. I want my work - whether it is a simple drawing, painting or mammoth sculpture - to radiate an energy from the inside. In my work, I would like to merge a modernist sensibility with classical/ traditional forms and processes. I love bringing seemingly unrelated (and often opposing) elements into my work, which when put together help construct a new meaning and aesthetic.
In any case, I believe that works of art should not be just static objects. They must provoke an intellectual thought or a spiritual experience. They must also allow for multiple interpretations. All these make art creation a real struggle, but an enjoyable one!
On his recurring motifs
I am interested in the inside as much as the outside; as well as the intervening layers in-between. The circular (and oval) shape is for me something very special. It is an intriguing primordial and spiritual form. It occurs in many of my works, but not always carrying the same arrangement, connotation or meaning. It might appear as a patch of descending sky; or a pond in the middle of a forest; or the bulging belly of a pregnant woman. For me, it is a reliable artistic motif and reusable metaphor. I am also constantly inspired by the exquisite nakedness of the human body. I see the navel as a central point in human anatomy; a tiny spot which holds immense significance. Many of my motifs have connection with cultivation, fertility and primeval symbols.
On his humanistic concerns
From the beginning I have believed in the power of art as a socio-political tool. Whether it was the Emergency, or the destruction of Babri Masjid, or the recurring incidents of communal violence - they have affected me and found expression in one way or the other in my work. Recently, when Perumal Murugan publicly declared himself 'dead’ as a writer, I was shocked and disturbed. My charcoal drawing, 'Death of an author’, came out of that incident. At the same time, I do not claim to be a political activist or a street fighter. All I have is a simple paint brush, hammer and chisel to work with.