June Mostra 2019/ Meet the artists… Kirtika Kain

As we approach the June Mostra, our third exhibition of this academic year, we will be publishing a series of blogs taking a closer look at the individual practices of our seven resident artists. The third interview is from Kirtika Kain National Art School, Sydney Resident.


Photo: Antonio Palmieri

You started your residency at the beginning of April. Is a city like Rome having an impact on an Indian born artist, like you, who grew up in Australia?

In every sense. To put my time here into context, prior to Rome I completed a three-month residency in Delhi. These two ancient cities continue to express the vastness of human civilisation. Two months ago, I was in the swirl of Old Delhi, the shrines and havelis; my dearest friend with whom I explored the city’s narrow lanes described to me how he had lived hand-to-mouth as a street child. I was reminded constantly that blood flows so close to the skin, that life in its full uncompromising force is so close to the surface. And then yesterday, in Rome, I walk into the palatial Doria Pamphilj Gallery, such evocative decadence. Each day I stroll through the lush and endearing Villa Borghese. There is a timelessness in both cities, they are the inverse of each other. I have witnessed this timelessness not so much in the built environment but certainly in the ancient land of Australia, within her seas and stones. I feel both familiar and foreign in all three cities of Delhi, Rome and Sydney.
As a resident of the British institution to then consider hierarchical caste and colonial structures from this lens has been so enormous that I think I am still in the phase of experiencing it all. I will ultimately come to a point of articulating and comprehending, but at the moment every day is such a feast of experience.


What has been your journey from India, a country that was colonised by Great Britain, to Italy in a British institution?

It has highlighted for me the complexity of colonisation, and opened up an area of enquiry that is inevitable for me to now move towards. I am curious about the colonial imprint upon both Australia and India and particularly how respectively Indigenous and Scheduled Castes and Tribes navigate this legacy. I often consider how, as a female artist born into the Dalit or Untouchable caste within India, it is necessary for me to show my work in a Western context for it to be visible, especially in India’s current political landscape. I know one day this will change.

I have been informed by such contemporary postcolonial theorists as Debjani Ganguly who have proposed that following Independence from Colonial rule, higher caste Indian leaders became the colonisers of minority Dalits; the structure remained internally even when British rule ceased. As a Dalit artist trained in the West, to address caste violence is playing with this colonial paradigm, it is no longer black and white. I think this conversation and these avenues of thinking start opening up from a place like the British School. The complexities become apparent because it is not just about the victim and the perpetrator, there are so many aspects. It is a grey-zone.


And you are investigating this grey-zone?

I am investigating it as a global citizen, across borders and time zones, from the ancient world to the modern one. A similar hierarchy based on purity and pollution existed in Ancient Rome. I am investigating it in the most human way possible, by working and thinking through material.


What is your approach to materials?


Raw materials from Kirtika’s studio in Delhi including tar, cotton, hand made paper, religious pigment and plaster

When I first considered Rome, I was compelled to know dates, periods of time, to research and define. And now I am here, I experience each time period through the surface and skin of all things. Recently, I went to the Etruscan museum here in Villa Giulia. Seeing these early clay pots, the ancient metals of copper, bronze, gold and iron, I lose track of where I am, as I have witnessed these same materials in the historical museums of Delhi. Being in Rome opens one up to the fluidity and common language of material.


Clay pots and ancient metals from the Etruscan Museum in Villa Giulia

Which materials have been new for you in Rome?

I have been etching copper, using waxes and enjoying the materials of restoration. The pigments are so numerous here. Yet the one material that has surprised me is gold. Gold is such a solid metal, it is so present and distinct. Yet in the mosaics of Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, it become translucent; it reflects light in the most glorious way I have seen.


Kirtika’s etched copper plates as shown in Spazi Aperti at the Accademia di Romania in Rome

As there is so much work on themes such as feminism and identity politics, how does this generation address this in a new way?

I think it is the responsibility of our generation to think of these concerns with a freshness. Every cell in my body is political, our bodies are so politicised and I can feel it especially as I watch the current Indian parliamentary elections unfold.  Beyond the wave of anger we must find our own voice; much of my political views have been informed by others. I now search for originality. Many of the things we stand for have been learned, especially something like caste which has been recycled for millennia. To believe that you are a shadow, your body is polluted, impure, an assault to those around you. I have inherited this legacy and now I find my own. My own voice.


Kirtika’s work will be exhibited alongside the seven other resident artists in the June Mostra. The opening will take place on Friday 14 June 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 June 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Marta Pellerini (Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator). Photos courtesy of the artist.