Benitha Perciyal K. (b. 1978)
Benitha is among the few contemporary artists who exults in celebrating the sensuality of memory, erasure, trace. Her work consistently remains an ode to the ephemerality of the experience of a fierce fecundity. The delicacy of concerns here is as profound as wanting to materialize and register the feel of the wind touching you and caressing your face. For the past several years she has explored her attachment and response to organic, found material like seeds, shells, crustacean fossils, flotsam, driftwood and detritus – material that may be temporary, non-lasting, evanescent or merely that which mutates and metamorphoses into something quite it’s other in time.
It is this need to mark the passage of time as an incremental aggregation that is a crucial concern for her and leads her to delve deep into the idea and nature of stains – of tea bags or the monthly menstrual pads – which tell a story of change and transition as vividly as the contours of a layered landscape. There is here a deep flirtation with the dialectic of impermanence on the one hand and of immanence on the other which pulls us energetically into the vortex of an incessant pulsing. Nature comes alive in infinitesimal accretions, accumulations, explosions and expansions as the seed and its oval,
ovular, oppressive orchestration already suggests ripeness and rot; like pods of natural cloves release an aroma or stench rich with the association of politically historic festering of colonial extortion in the subcontinent; like incense trees that rapidly recycle into restorative ash.
Benitha almost lusts after these temporal passages of fleeting duration and traps them in the folds of an emotional whorl. Expression turns curving and circular and spiraling. Surfaces she works on, like papier mache, sarees, curtains, lace, become as important and urgent markers of this processual engagement as her resistance to emphasize any definitive form. She consciously resists frozen objectification and asserts her need to merge space and form. In a uniquely textured way, she couples the duality, the binary of positive and negative space and foregrounds possibilities of contiguous space.
In Benitha’s work, it is impossible to separate the sap from the fissure. It is evidently a progression in this concept that is now persuading her to seep out of formal gallery spaces and seek the possibility of a more emphatic articulation of the inside-outside dynamic. This disengagement from the comfort of ‘traditional’ art making and display is sure to be fraught with new discoveries and excitements as the skin of her work rubs against the grain of the sleeve of found environment. It need not necessarily be a comforting exercise. On the contrary it can be both disruptive and provocative. Like her series of seed-bowls, titled ‘Unless a Seed falls to the Ground…It produces much Fruit’, has a conceptual premise that makes it hostile to ‘informal’ viewing, outside the discourse of ‘display’ spaces. This ‘natural’ material when located within a ‘natural’ outdoor space can turn confrontational and double upon its own meaning and even turn self-mocking. In a gallery context, it can trigger and activate ‘dead’ space. However, in environment, I will need certain reworking to interact with an already abundantly active space.
It is this openness to risk-taking that makes Benitha’s work stand out and magically reveal to us the nurturing tenderness behind her fierce pursuit.
By Sadanand Menon