By Faz Zia
London is a place for art and culture and artists from all over the world come London to show their creativity and art. I have a great Interaction with an International artist and author Kota Neelima who is here with her ‘The Manifest Absence’ exhibition to London from 10th – 14th September 2018 at The Nehru Art Centre Gallery.
Her art explores spirituality and it’s connection with the real world. Commended for speaking out on gender, political and rural issues in India, Neelima’s latest book ‘Widows of Vidarbha’ gives insight into challenges of women following farmer suicides and was published by Oxford University Press earlier this year.
Q: Tell us about your UK visit?
KN: London is a philosophical point of convergence of different worlds. As an artist and author, I have drawn deeply from the Indian philosophical thought and tried to debate the various facets through art and literature. The experience of sharing my workhere in London will orient it in the realm of larger creative expression and, importantly, show the way forward to me as an artist and author.
Q: You are wearing many hats such as painter, author, journalist and social activist. Which is the closest to your heart?
KN: Every form of expression has its own uniqueness and its own limitation. This leads to the exploration of other forms, which may do justice to a particular thought in its presentation. I have always rebelled against the structural confinement of expression, even if it meant enriching the tools. I shall remain a methodological nomad who never settles down to be obedient to the rules of one medium.
The various aspects of my work are all equally important and remain inseparable parts of who I am.
Q: What is your art form?
KN: Two different art movements have had a deep impact on my art; Impressionism and Abstract art. The philosophical debates I paint about are essentially abstract. For instance, the questions of the present art show are, what is the Self, and whether the human intellect is incapable of answering such questions. The American Abstract art allows for such interpretations, but not in its Expressionist form. There, I draw from the European Impressionism that helps in creating points of reference for the abstract spaces of thought.
Q: What do you think about the present day art and literature?
KN: Human thought has always been universal. That is the reason why art and literature find resonance globally; a book written in one town, or a painting made in one country, can be appreciated across the world. Technology has made this universality of creative thought easier and more accessible. As an artist and an author, I find this global connection enriching.
Q: What were the challenges you faced as an artist and activist?
KN: My activism, and the non-conformist art is born from challenges. My work is based in dissent and anger that remains unexpressed in the society. Unlike the ideological battles, the fight against injustice does not end in replacing one regime with another, or one set of leaders with another. This fight is for rights, for equality, for respect and for dignity. When issues like poverty, underdevelopment, and discrimination remain unaddressed despite the promises of democracy and revolution, there is need to rethink the choices people are given to make. The vote will not deliver change, if the change is ‘fixed’. I challenge the so-called democratic structures given to the ordinary people, like the elected houses and elected representatives, as a vision for a better future. We are yet to see that better future being delivered through the present power structures of democracy.
Q: To date how many messages have you conveyed through your work of art and what do you think is the impact you are having on people/want to have?
KN: My exploration of spirituality is based in my research of rural India and its unending poverty. The daily hardships of 800 million people of India and their struggle for mere survival made me question the philosophical basis of Indian religions. My message through my art and my books has been to mainstream the suffering of the rural poor, the farmers and women of Indian villages. It is never enough, but I hope my work has brought some degree of awareness among the discerningaudience.
Q: You wrote books on social issues especially on the farmer suicide in India, why?
KN: I shall answer this with a staggering statistic. According to government statistics, from 1995-2015, 320,000 farmers have committed suicide due to failure of agriculture. Yet, there was no major policy movement by subsequent governments to prevent such deaths. The vote of the poor is managed by those in power without addressing their problems. The voice of the poor is not given space in the corporate-owned media. I write about farmer suicides in India because they are invisible. The poor farmer, who holds less than 5 acres of land in India, is a dispensable statistic. I want to change that; I want that poor, small farmer to enter the influential living rooms of urban India through my books, and refuse to leave the conscience of the readers until he/she gets justice.
Q: Did you inherit Your background as journalist from your parents or was it your choice?
KN: If by inherit, one means the way one inherits sunlight and rain, then yes. Expression is to be cultivated, it has to be freed from the fetters of social conditioning, and that takes guidance, which I got from my parents. I learnt courage from my father, who was also a journalist and an author. And I learnt creative thinking from my mother, who is a painter. In the end, like sunlight and rain, it all depends on whether that is enough to inspire you.
Q: Tell us about your painting “The manifest absence “
KN: Truth is an incomplete construct and it must remain so. Knowing is knowing only part of the truth and not all of it. The human intellect knows that there can be no absolute truth, and that is where skepticism arises from. Therefore, all philosophical thought must make space for doubt, only then can it be complete and remain positive. This is at the heart of my new work, my 8th solo exhibition, The Manifest Absence, on at Nehru Centre, 8, South Audely Street, September 10-14. You can find me there everyday between 10 am to 6 pm, through the week.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
KN: If you are still reading this interview, then you are my favourite reader of all time! But on a serious note, do question the so-called democratic processes handed down by the leadership. Democracy is a great value, and it must be defended at all times, and sometimes against dubious forms of democracy itself. That’s the central message of all my work.