Lightness of being with artist KS Radhakrishnan

His first-ever retrospective in Delhi focuses on his constantly evolving practice using bronze
The Crowd
The Crowd

For now, sculptor KS Radhakrishnan is in the Bronze Age. At his first-ever retrospective, the front lawn of Delhi’s Bikaner House is populated by a horde of ‘bronze people’, caught in motion. Named The Crowd, the massive installation of 50 figures, each six feet tall, brings to mind Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz’s fibre works. While both depict people frozen in time, Abakanowicz’s works are regimental compared to the effortless fluidity in Radhakrishnan’s figures. The space between the figures invites the viewer to step into a surreal dimension, and be one with the crowd. The exhibition, On the Open Road, mounted by Gallerie Nvya, covers five decades of the Delhi-based artist’s work.

Born in 1956 in Kottayam, Kerala, Radhakrishnan studied art at Kala Bhavana, Santiniketan, under pedagogues Ramkinkar Baij and Sarbari Roy Choudhury. Talking about his days in Tagore’s ‘utopia of art’, he says, “I was 18 years old when I went to Santiniketan. The artistic atmosphere of the place just sucked me in. I felt at home at once.” Perhaps, it is this feeling that draws him to Santiniketan even now; he visits almost every month. “Every place has its own hold over you. When I shifted base from Kerala to Delhi in 1978, I was struck by the ‘migrant metro’. So many people travel to Delhi looking for work, and finally settle here. I was one such person.

These people have occupied the city with box-like houses, filled with their sufferings and celebrations. My Human Boxes series tries to depict this phenomenon, with the sculptures responding sympathetically to the unfolding saga of migrants, who come to Delhi, and somehow create a life within highly limited spaces and circumstances. My Memories series shows the burden of memories—of homes and family left behind—which these migrants carry within.” 

Of his mentors, Baij has been a lasting influence on the sculptor. Though Baij worked mostly on portraits in clay, Radhakrishnan moved to figures and chose bronze as his preferred medium. “My figures are mostly depicted in motion. Just like dancers caught mid-air, they rest sometimes on one foot or a palm, or even the head, especially in the Freehold series. Only the sturdiness of bronze could make it possible to sculpt such figures,” he explains, standing in front of one of his favourite works—The Ramp (Masui as Ramakrishna). Masui and his counterpart Maiya are known as the artist’s muse. How did he come across them? “Masui was a Santhal boy I met in Santiniketan. His supple body—strong yet malleable—moved me to do a figure study. When I was moving to Delhi, I wanted to carry it with me. Unfortunately, it was too large. But, I managed to carry the head. Fifteen years later, Masui again found his way into my work.

This time I decided to create his counterpart, and thus Maiya was born. Ever since, most of my works have the faces of Masui and Maiya,” elaborates the artist. Many of his later works—especially with miniature human forms—are genderless, and often make use of props such as an idli maker, a rickshaw, a table lamp and more.  The boat—an object that connects Kerala and Santiniketan in his mind—is another recurrent theme. Multiple figures rising like waves from a boat suspended in mid-air, or falling out of a hand-pulled rickshaw, are a reflection of the many moods and emotions one carries inside while leaving behind a secure place. A recent evolution in his practice is merging paper pulp with bronze. “It happened while I was attending a workshop in Santiniketan last year. 

I had carried along some of my bronze miniatures. The fluidity of the paper pulp made them appear as if they were sinking in water while crossing a river, or rising out of a floating cloud,” recalls the bespectacled artist running his fingers through his flowing beard. “My aim is to bring in a lightness of form in my work,” he says, almost to himself.

When & Where
On the Open Road; Centre for Contemporary Art, Bikaner House, Delhi; Till December 14

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