In the village of Saligao, Goa, art Subodh Kerkar lives not far from the ancestral home of legendary art FN Souza. Born here in 1924, Souza would go on to become one of the greats of Indian modern art, as the co-founder of Bombay Progressive Arts’ Group. With international acclaim, during his lifetime as well as posthumously, Souza is a good example of “making the local as global”, says 62-year-old Kerkar.
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Over the last few months, Kerkar has been paying homage to Souza through works that can be called both drawings and sculptures. On terracotta tablets, he creates figures that are evocative of Souza’s signature style – grotesque figures, grimaces, and eyes that refuse to blink.
Kerkar, who has made 250 Souza-inspired works so far, says, “I have borrowed from Souza but brought in my own coin.” The figures mimic Souza’s and also draw from Kerkar’s artic inclinations. For starters, Souza never made sculptures, so Kerkar’s clay works open up possibilities. The drawings are made on wet clay using any material at all – from tyres to nuts and bolts – to create desired textures on them before the set. Some might say this is unorthodox, but Souza was no less.
On social media, Kerkar posts his works in progress. In one, a scooter tyre presses into clay to reveal eyes, while a wooden spoon creates a mouth. One of Souza’s iconic visual notations, stars on faces, which are often read as pockmarks, are also seen here. “You have to work quickly on wet clay. The actual work takes a few minutes but the process of preparing the clay takes some time,” Kerkar says.
Kerkar is known for installations and sculptures, which often relate to his milieu, such as the inseparable connection between fishermen and the sea, or even the use of shells, coconuts and old boats. About a year and a half ago, he started making drawings “obsessively”. He considers it the greatest gift the pandemic gave him. He says, “I have previously done drawings, landscapes and figurative work, but in the lockdowns, I started drawing again. I had all this time to myself. Corona did this to me and Souza did this to me.”
Over the last few months, Kerkar has been paying homage to Souza through works that can be called both drawings and sculptures. (photo: Subodh Kerkar)
Kerkar reflects on Souza’s writings as well, especially his autobiography Words & Lines (1959), and says, “You see a Souza text and you don’t forget it. The characters are very strong.” He adds, “Souza is a painter of anguish.” For Kerkar, Souza relates to the times we are in now, an age of anguish. Souza’s reasons may have been different, but, as Kerkar points out, the anguish of each era is different. “It’s in the back of my mind when I make these portraits,” he says.
Kerkar is also the founding director of the Museum of Goa in Saligao, where he aims to promote Goa’s artic and cultural legacy. Some of his Souza-inspired works are set to be part of an exhibition here, titled Posthumous Dialogues with Francis Newton Souza, curated Sabitha Satchi, in April.
The figures mimic Souza’s and also draw from Kerkar’s artic inclinations. (photo: Subodh Kerkar)
Souza’s ancestral home is close-, but in the hands of new owners now. Like the houses and studios of arts abroad, Kerkar hopes that one day, it will be preserved to honour Souza’s legacy. He says, “I am proud that he is from my village. There must be some kind of monument to Souza in Goa. Monuments to our contemporary great arts haven’t happened. We don’t respect our heritage unless it’s politically motivated.”
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