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The journey of an artist
- Padma Jayaraj
Photos courtesy: Sindhu Divakaran

October 7, 2019

Asantham (Turbulence) is commemorating the memory of artist Asanthan who passed away quite early in life. Asanthan, the assumed name of the artist, indicates the choice of his mission in life. He was an activist and a member of the District Co-operative Bank, Kochi, Kerala that works for the Welfare of Farmers. To honour the artist, the bank decided to confer an award on an artist. Sindhu Divakaran won the award for her painting that indicates the plight of the present day farmer in India. It is a political understatement that points to a bleak scenario. The farmers, trapped in debt, committing suicide is a bleak reality today. Is it just news, is the query posed by the artist.

The paintings that came for competition are exhibited for ten days, in Durbar Hall, Kochi. Sindhu declared to hand over the Rs. 25,000 cash award to the widow of the artist who is struggling to keep her life afloat.

I came across Sindhu in 2011, while working in a project for Kerala Lalit Kala Akademi. She was in charge of the digitization of folklore documentation. One day, I accompanied her to her rented house to fetch something for our work. I was struck by an unfinished canvas. A young woman in the middle of her terraced garden, her longing lingering gaze beyond the waters, beyond the barren mountain range stretching unto the horizon. The sense of confinement within the bounds of home resonated with my own deeper longings.

'This is my self portrait ...' Sindhu read my thoughts. I did not know that she painted. Trained for a career in arts in the Fine Arts College, Trivandrum, she had a stint in an advertising agency. For financial reasons she had to work, even when her first love was painting. We met again during a Painters Camp in Delhi. Her canvas depicted the tragic reality of Indian womanhood....consumed by translucent smoke, the woman in her canvas rose like a spirit reminding me of Sati Ma.

Two Goddesses, acrylic on canvas, 3x4 feet

Her paintings that appeared in group shows portrayed the traditional Indian concept of the feminine with an undercurrent of angst. Soon her artistic perception posed a critiquing stance. The Two Goddesses remains a scathing comment. The artist moved from camp to camp painting, and started exhibiting in group shows.

Sindhu loves travel and books. As years have passed, the artist has grown in stature. Victimization has become the theme with a political standpoint. Irony lends a deeper dimension to her subject. Children, like women, are victims in a male-oriented callous world. In Sindhu's canvas, children with an aura of innocence question inhumanity in war ravaged realms. The unusual sombre colours and a combination of the abstract and the figurative make her art unique. The innocent girl with a paper plane highlights the ironic while the burnt amber and ashy splashes complement the painful theme in tragic facet.

Migration, the aftermath of conflict and war destroys life en masse. Man-made calamities destroy life of people who had no role in power politics. Her painting in the context of the Syrian tragedy depicts the plight of women and children, caught between the fire and the deep sea. The colours and the faces reveal the pain and the pity of Guernica.

Flood, acrylic on canvas, 2x1feet

Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 4x3 feet

Ekalavya, acrylic on canvas, 6x4 feet

Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 4x3 feet

She has taken up the cause of the marginalized Dalits in the Indian context, from our epic to modern times. Ekalavya with his thumb cut, blood congealed in his quiver - in the place of arrows, side by side with Rohith Vemula projected the age-old tragedy in India. Almost like a prophetess, she drew the picture of an hour-glass that measured the almanac in blood. The Flood of 2018 that devastated Kerala shook her as a person and an artist. The cry of Nature was a powerful painting.

The undercurrent of irony is the unique feature of Sindhu's oeuvre. It gives a different dimension even to philosophic aspects. The Zen parable of the 'Mother fish and the little fish' gains an unfathomable depth steeped in irony, with the painting of the fisherman with his trap, antithetical to the philosophic stance. The trap of the fisherman symbolizes the situation of life, both for the realized and for the uninitiated, in the Zen Buddhist context. Deep, sombre colours flow from her palate giving her canvas the touch of inscrutability. Experimental in nature her forms and curves change and move on, always reminding of the Indian ethos down from Ajantha times.

Survival- I, acrylic on canvas, 6x4 feet

Hailing from a middle class family she has known both protection and the need for safety, both financial and social. She has grown up with a sense of freedom that marks her poise and posture of dignity, both as an artist and a woman. As a socially committed individual, Sindhu has volunteered in relief camps especially during natural calamities. She runs an art school in her hometown Angamali in Kerala. It is a refuge from the toxic world of life for many. Here, a corner is reserved for the differently abled, where another world is cast in different hues and designs. As soft music plays in the background, as if from a distant waterfall, a group of souls, longing for a different world in a tumultuous life, find peace and nourishment in her school, Chitram. It is a sanctuary for both children and adults.

As an aspiring artist, Sindhu is preparing for a solo show of her works. She was the State Award winner for Painting in 2017. Sindhu Divakaran has miles and miles to go both as an artist and a committed human being for whom compassion is the only ideal to pursue.

Padma Jayaraj is a freelance writer on the arts and a regular contributor to

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