April 15, 2018


There is truth in art. Art is not an undertaking of a trend or an 'ism', as Rekha Rodwittiya says at the opening of her Songs from the Blood of the Weary at the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Mumbai. Art is a space for a wider discourse that marries the lives of people in the effort to mark us from the same fabric while highlighting our unique texture. This space of connectivity allows art to be a discourse that can be revisited at any time to engage with. Thus truth makes art timeless.  Rodwittiya begins by sharing a simple fact. Her age, she turns 60 this year. Her voice betrays no hint of celebration in this fact for just one reason, that the reason she put her brush to Songs from the Blood of the Weary 20 years ago is still one that grips and cages our society today. Her work showcased at the CSMVS is a dialogue of peace, the bringing into focus a sense of accountability of the territory she felt the need to engage in. Her discourse not only in this showcase but through all her pieces of work originate from a sense to talk about issues overlooked or disregarded in the keeping of political correctness. Women, Rodwittiya's work will tell you of the history, sorrow, spirit of resilience and stories of survival of women. As a woman and a feminist, this is Rekha Rodwittiya's truth. 

Tanishka D'lyma (MOA): What are the stories that Songs from the Blood of the Weary tell?

Rekha Rodwittiya (Rodwittiya): It is a poetic missive that speaks of the survival of women and the triumph of resistance.

The pieces in the show include 12 paintings that come together resting on the walls of a mobile wooden room, an installation made for the celebration of the UN's 50th anniversary in 1995, and which is one of the firsts from an Indian artist. The show also includes 12 more paintings made during the decade prior to the installation, and take its name.

MOA: The show brings together pieces worked on for over a period of 10 years. How did your evolution as an artist affect the series. 

Rodwittiya: My relationship with the world is governed by my engagement with gender politics. All of these works in this exhibition revolve around the world of women, and position the ideas of empowerment and the discourse that includes the notions of resistance and the sacrifice that is entailed to achieve the change we dream of. I have always lived my life with an alertness to where interventions are needed and where questions need answers sought. My art mirrors these preoccupations.

Songs from the Blood of the Weary is a pictorial narrative that flows from the beliefs that she champions, from the empathy found through observation and the percolation of daily experiences and memory. Her poetics employ metaphors to represent female history.  

MOA: How do you approach your canvas?

Rodwittiya: My ideational spaces are always from the ongoing realities that inform my existence and the issues around me that fashion the lives of others.

Every frame boasts of a female protagonist. Her large figure, the confidence she alludes and boldness of her eyes painted in dire, raging and bleak situations give life to her anguish and perseverance. A series of household items are found in the pieces of the show, but diminished in comparison with the women using them, another comment on the authority and strength women possess within themselves.

MOA: The pieces in the show are dominated by bright hues, particularly the colour red. As a colourist, what is it that you want it to represent?

Rodwittiya: Colour is a strong element in my work. My palette is influenced by cultural practices and through the manner in which I invest meaning in it.

The show as a whole documents the spirit of the female and the issues she faces. And in its individual pieces, it is also the womb of awareness – preserving the truth about female issue like female infanticide, dowry deaths, and honour killings, and nurturing the seed of change through that awareness.  

MOA: In what way do you think viewers should approach Songs from the Blood of the Weary?

Rodwittiya: I believe we all carry our own experiences that allow us to decipher meanings from narratives that deal with human existence. We comprehend the subtext because we recognise the imprint of our selves in abstracted ways. 

MOA: ...And take from it?

Rodwittiya: Hopefully that we understand the space of collective accountability and the need to confront our own conscience.  

Songs from the Blood of the Weary will be showcased at the Jehangir Nicholson Gallery at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai till July 31, 2018.

Photograph of Rekha Rodwittiya by Ankush Safaya