A Crusader of/for Site Specific Public Art: Subodh Kerkar
Subodh Kerkar does not wait for someone to tell him what is worthy as an art object or what could be done to make public art projects. Subodh goes around and like an artist who sees only shapes in a canvas or a sculptor who sees only forms in blocks of marbles he sees ideas and forms in anything and everything that surrounds him. He converts sand dunes into planets, sea shells into permanent and temporary installations. For him abandoned boats are treasure troves of forms. Subodh who confesses his liking for Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy, is a contemporary artist who lives and works in Goa.
Trained as a medical doctor, Subodh got initiated into the world of art as a young boy. His father was a painter who used to chronicle the life of Goa in his works done in the western academic style. Subodh grew up as a watercolourist and a student activist. Activism took him to medical profession for he thought that he would serve the society better as a doctor. But his true calling was art. He established himself as a major watercolorist in the Goan art scene. But as an artist who wants to constantly transcend his ideas and mediums, he soon found public art and site specific works closer to his own personality. As a student activist, he was always connected to the people and as an artist too he wanted to do the same.
Perhaps, Subodh is one artist who proved to an artistically conventional society of Goa that if there is a will there is a way, too. Despite the presence of a few monumental sculptures and a few portrait paintings Goan art scene was almost barren during the 1980s and 90s. Though Goa Art College has produced some of the finest artists in India, only a few stayed back in Goa. With no patronage other than the occasional art buying tourists, it was really difficult to develop an indigenous art scene there. Subodh, having no formal art education as his 'biggest handicap' pitched himself into the contemporary art scene of Goa with some interesting site specific works, which got the people to sit up and think about art.
Andy Goldsworthy once said that you could do anything as art but you just need to get into the rhythm of it. Subodh, too, is always in tune with the nature around him and not a single public art project or site specific work that he has done over a period of last eight years look forced or contrived with difficulty. The works look monumental, experimental and above all relevant to its surroundings. It all started when the artist took a few copper lamp shades that he had designed to the Goa beach. He and his friends dug up few craters on the beach bed and placed the lamps inside it. Once they were lit, it looked as if they were a constellation of new planets. Subodh rightly called them the 'Tenth Planet'.
It was in 2002 and there is no looking back for the artist ever since. The sea has always been a backdrop and inspiration for Subodh. Growing up in the vicinity of the sea, like Hemingway, Subodh finds it really difficult to move away from the music of it. All his works, even if they are paintings, gallery installations, public projects, designs or digital images, have got inspirations and images from the sea life. In 2005, at the Goa beach,he did another site specific installation titled 'Sea Anemone'. He collected sea shells from the beach and arranged them in the shape of an anemone and lit them up from inside. This spectacular site specific work was visited by more than two lakh people. Subodh has been invited to international biennales and art projects to do public sculptures and his site specific work was awarded by the Busan Biennale in 2006. It is his site specific work in Dubai got him international acclamation.
An avid promoter of Goan art and artists, Subodh finds it imperative to work with artists from all over India. He invites established and young artists to do public projects in Goa. It is interesting to see a single artist's efforts yielding good results for the Goa art scene. As an activist with a lot of grass root connections Subodh is always capable of convincing the authorities to get funds for doing public projects, often for the other artists. Never does he discriminate public art projects as commissioned works, funded by art agencies, self funded and so on. Any work of art done in the public and left for the public consumption without engaging the work with commercial dealings should be seen as public art, Subodh says. He also adds that there should be special bodies to judge the aesthetical validity of such works, if it is produced by using public funds.
Working with different materials and objects, the artist extensively uses the boat forms. He buys unused wooden boats and cut them up into different sizes and shapes to produce his site specific as well as gallery based installations and sculptures. For him, the boat is a powerful symbol of any community that lives by the sea. The image of a boat shows the quality of endurance and power. When Subodh uses the cut up boats and paints them on, both the male and female principles appear in them. Through a series of works that he has done recently, Subodh speaks of the different facets of terror and power. Citing the incident of the terrorists coming by the sea route to attack Mumbai, Subodh says the traditional boats are no longer the medium of conveyance. Fitted with information technology devices, they carry terror too. Hence, this series of installations has the circuit boards and other computer devices as integral parts.
As an artist who would like to work with different mediums and people with different expertise, Subodh incorporates theatre actors and people from the local areas into his works. In the public performances in, around and with the works, they act out various movements which the artist captures selectively and converts them into digital works, which are displayed along with his sculptures and installations in galleries.
Subodh always like to work on issues that are socially relevant and demand public attention. 'Water', is a site- specific installation in which he placed a series of half-filled wine glasses along the Goan beach. In another series he created large-scale water drops in fiber glass and installed along the walls. To elucidate on the environmental concerns, Subodh created an installation using the locally available coconut leaves and shells.
Subodh Kerkar believes that art should be beyond all kinds of boundaries, and that art should not create any religious or parochial divides. To voice his ideas, he regularly writes in magazines and newspapers. As a crusader for site- specific art, Subodh has created a platform for the young artists in Goa. Now it is their turn to make use of it.