Bold hues of history
Artist Sedunath Prabhakar’s contemporary art series discusses Mahatma Gandhi and India’s deities in a new light
The name Mahatma Gandhi is synonymous with Ahimsa. Even while he was behind bars during the independence struggle, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi relied on empathy and kindness and kept his hope alive. His ideas of love and no violence set him free, like birds flying out into the sky during dawn, as a steady stream flows underneath them. Not our simile, this beautiful imagery is out of the painting titled ‘The Prisoner’ by Melbourne-based Malayali artist Sedunath Prabhakar.
The painting is part of his recent contemporary series titled Portraits of Gandhi. The Kollam native, who has been living in Australia since 2009, is inspired by Indian culture and history. His canvases are a testimony to this endearing nostalgia. The artist in his late 40s will be holding the debut exhibition of Portraits of Gandhi alongside his other series Portraits of Indian Gods and Goddesses in Kerala under the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi.
Sedunath’s strokes are a wise play of colours on canvas. He doesn’t mix them. His contemporary drawings that narrate India’s political history are full of bright blues, reds, yellows and even blacks. Portraits of Gandhi, which comprises 14 paintings, is a compilation of Gandhi’s transformation — from a freedom fighter to a cult figure.
Sedunath spent the last two years inside the studio at his house in Melbourne, making these acrylic paintings on canvas. He experiments with knife carvings too. The Walk, Dandi March, Reminiscence of Gandhi and Hey Ram-Death of Gandhi take a meticulous look into the life and ideals of the father of our nation.
However, in other frames like Rejection, Two Leaves and Diplomacy, Sedunath discusses his political agendas. “I respect Gandhi. He was an honest human being. But he also has his imperfections,” says Sedunath. Rejection also features other national leaders like Bhagat Singh and B R Ambedkar alongside Gandhi. “Bhagat Singh opposed Gandhi while Ambedkar questioned him. People, especially the so-called upper-class Hindus disliked Ambedkar because of his caste. The painting Two Leaves has a red Gandhi that is symbolic of his fierce political outlook,” says Sedunath. His juxtaposition of Adivasi man Madhu who was beaten to death by a mob for stealing some food next to Sree Narayana Guru is quite intuitive. “Madhu represents people who live out of the margin,” says the artist.
Sedunath’s paintings have many philosophical undertones. His series, Portraits of Indian Gods and Goddesses, reveals Brahmanical and patriarchal domination. The paintings showcase human history through mythological texts and characters like Lord Krishna, Draupadi and Goddess Saraswathi. “It didn’t seem quite logical to me that Gods and Goddesses had light skin colour and were dressed luxuriously.
Didn’t god exist in civilizations before fabric, as we know, was invented?” questions Sedunath, justifying the nudity in his portrayal of Indian deities. He exhibits the private parts of the human body, to level out sex-based discrimination. “Penis symbolises masculinity. It doesn’t just portray sex. Rather, it symbolises priesthood and domination over common people and women, especially,” he says.
MORE ON THE ARTIST
Sedunath Prabhakar is the first Indian artist to showcase his artworks at the Parliament of Victoria, Australia in May 2017. His work, titled Pride of Australia, features 50 iconic personalities from the country’s history. It took him 1.5 years to complete the acrylic work on a 50-metre long canvas. Later, he was invited by the Sultanate of Oman and the Indian Embassy of Oman in 2017 to exhibit paintings in the Fine Arts Hall of Muscat. Sedunath is also a musician