Kamala Vasuki is an artist and feminist activist who has continuously reacted and responded to oppressive, marginalizing and silencing mechanisms through her social action and her expressions through art. The work she has created for more than three decades strongly represents her challenging and untiring career as a feminist artist and activist.
Like her teacher, Mr. A. Mark, she is unstoppable and uncompromising and a turbulent external environment served to make her more expressive. War, displacement, economic blockade, surveillance, censorship, natural disaster, administrative pandemonium, disintegration of family and society, hatred and suspicion at every level clouded our lives for nearly 50 years. But we also witnessed the integrity of human beings across societies and borders. This gives hope, strength and faith in human beings. I am glad that Kamala Vasuki rose to meet each difficult situation with her action and art, working both individually and collectively.
Kamala Vasuki was never conditioned or controlled by the conventions and conservatism of modern art. The materials at hand became her artistic response and reaction to distressing situations. Even in solitude in dark and damp bunkers with only dim light, she delivered sculptures made out of ball point pens. Taking cover behind walls in times of heavy firing, she created soap carvings that decorated the home and inspired conversation when friends and relatives gathered for a chat or for shelter with neighbors during shelling and bombardment. During the economic blockade, these soap sculptures were returned to their original use to meet the needs of family members.
A sense of temporariness becomes the nature of art in the hands and minds of Mr. A. Mark and Kamala Vasuki. Their reactions and responses to the context and situation were bold and spontaneous; an important aspect in times of crisis. This is also as art should be – not restrained by conditions and norms that are manufactured within safe and “sophisticated” environments and far away centers.
Mr. A. Mark, as an artist, art teacher and mentor, played an important role in the making of this powerhouse of a woman in the world of modern art dominated by men and masculinity. Kamala Vasuki has transformed the representation of women in modern art. Her women swim with fish, dance with the breeze, swing in the wind and render energy, elegance and the fiery power of emotions and strength too often denied in the world of men and masculinity.
In real life, women in the villages are story tellers, singers and have expertise in local art traditions as well as their routine duties as mothers. Kamala Vasuki brought those whose stories would never have been told into the public sphere. Clothes as Witness of Violence displayed of the work of a women’s collective in times of danger; it was daring art activism that shook the public and brought unspeakable truths out into the open.
Kamala Vasuki is sensitive not only to all kinds of violence (starting from the self, the home and to wider society) but also to celebrations and joy. The bright mix of colors, curly lines like waves and a feeling of moving in the wind uplift us when we stand in front of her paintings. She transforms the viewers as creative participants in her work.
As a cartoonist she depicts the intelligence, common sense, critical perception, quick wit and natural sarcasm of women.
Art is conditioned by context and it speaks through its people; it’s not only a journey of an individual. This is the truth behind the work of Kamala Vasuki.
A new exhibition by Kamala Vasuki entitled A Retrospective 1989 -2023 will open on April 5 in Batticaloa.