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Beauty and Body

By Raju Patel

I was born and raised in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand in the 1970s. After higher secondary schooling, I joined the Faculty of Fine Arts in M.S. University, Vadodara to pursue my interest in painting.

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Being a migrant who moved from Jamshedpur to Vadodara, I felt simultaneously connected and disconnected with both places. In the year 2002 I completed my post-graduate diploma in Painting. Since then I have been exploring themes of social exclusion, conception of body and beauty or, to put it in other words, notions of the differently abled body.

Recently my paintings were displayed at the 53rd National Exhibition, along with the work of other emerging artists in the field of visual arts.

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The exhibition was held at Lalit Kala Academy Regional Centre 4, Chennai, and was organized by the Lalit Kala Academy, New Delhi. My paintings are predominantely small and rendered in water colors. As I am differently-abled, I feel comfortable and confident handling small-sized work. As per the subject matter, I mix both transparent and opaque qualities of water colours.  My command over water colours is evident in my work and readers are welcome to judge for themselves. I use and explore popular visual material as reference as well as citation in my paintings and drawings. My work includes images of a bridge, a fighter plane, paralympics, skates, and football. The images are not presented photographically but in all their ambiguity reflecting my experience of these objects and events.

These paintings show how I experience the world.

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My works are asymmetrical to visuality and experience. I have inserted both my desire to be within the city-scape and the reality of being outside of it into these works. In my water colour entitled ‘Bridge’, I create a landscape divided into two parts. The upper part of this painting which is rendered in colour encodes visibility. This visibility is of the outer surface and is presented by a series of shoes and boots.  I construct a landscape by depicting the tops of shoes and thus encode the city as disabling. However, this disabling part remains invisible as shown in my painting in the lower monochrome half. The use of monochrome also conveys the feeling of timelessness. ‘Bridge’represents my experiences and feelings of being excluded from the everyday world of able bodies.

In my work I also present the desire for becoming visible and having the ability to partake in every realm that is occupied by able bodies.

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This sensibility takes shape in my paintings titled  ‘Defender’, ‘Able’ness’, ‘Stamp’ and ‘Skating’. In ‘Defender’ we see a net-like pattern or grid in an emotionally charged colour. The grid pattern signifies rationality, control and order, whereas, the emotionally charged colour moves beyond the logic of control, order, and rationality. The shoe is encoded as defender, defending against the forces of competition which are symbolically presented here in the image of a football – a visible object – which is thrown/kicked with force towards the defender. The unusual form of the shoe co-relates with the shape of the wearer’s foot as well as the condition of the shoes and its wearer. As a differently-abled person I represent my desire with a pinch of angst. Here the desire is to become visible as well as to play and participate in games that other able-bodied people play. In this work the angst could be interpreted through the positing of the defender as one who plays a specific role within the game of football. Although he has an important role to perform he remains at the back and is least visible during the game. Here game and play also stand for practices of everyday lives.

My exclusion is not a visibly enforced one but one that is circumstantial. This exclusion is based on how ‘the differently-abled’ are made to take-up certain kinds of work when compared to idealized, valorized bodies. I weave a fabric of my experiences through the everyday built-environment, be it transportation, architecture, road, urban objects like bridges and the zebra-crossing. I map these experiences on my body through the folds of my skin and with the clumsiness of my brain and in the presence of ants.

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The painting “Key Hole” is also composed in a grid-pattern. This painting consists of six rectangular boxes and each box has a circle inside it, representing a key hole. Each circle has differently positioned shoes. In this work, the key hole works at multiple levels. At one level it is a pictorial device through which an artist constructs how and what an able body knows about a differently-abled body. At the same time the image of the key-hole could be read as a division of knowledge about ability, one form of knowledge from the normative view of the body, and the other form of knowledge from outside of it. I, Raju Prabhu Patel, try to explore the inner and outer worlds or personal and social worlds of a disabled person, and find that it is the inner-space or personalized world which is the only available place where pain and suffering of an individual and a disabled person can be expressed.

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For me, my works are not a representation of physical disability, because representation implies that the one who is expressing has the power or authority to speak for another person. My interest in disability and art is an outcome of my own physical disability. I cannot make or present myself as an observer, but I can only make myself  the subject, a subject whose disability is shaping its subjectivity;“I may be different but not disabled.”

Author:

Raju Patel is an artist in Baroda. He has exhibited his work at several shows in galleries across India. He has a post-graduate diploma in Painting from the Faculty of Fine Arts in M.S. University, Baroda.

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For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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