T. Venkanna in his studio, Baroda 2017 photo Hervé Perdriolle
T. Venkanna, born in 1980 in Gajwel, India, is the youngest artist in The Empire Strikes Back exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London in 2008. For this exhibition he revisits two large paintings of Le Douanier Rousseau. The naïve and fantastic world of Le Douanier Rousseau was so little related to the plastic researches of his contemporaries that his art was long misunderstood.
Venkanna is interested in the question of temporality. By revisiting the last work painted by Rousseau (Le rêve, 1910), Venkanna represents himself in the place of a naked woman and brings up the problem of gender representation. India is known for its temples of Khajuraho, an eroticism that no other religion has dared to represent. Yet modern India, in its regions or through the pressure of the religious extremisms, has certainly become the most prude of the major democracies. Thus one of the great modern painters, M. F. Husain, had to go into exile (ironically in Dubai) for having represented naked Hindu deities. A young artist from the Baroda School, from which Venkanna comes, was molested, expelled from school, and sued for obscene representation of Christ.
Venkanna’s work frees itself from these prohibitions. He tracks down the most exuberant sexual phantasmagoria pushing the exaggeration to burlesque, to tragedy. What seduces beyond these carnivalesque visions (life and death walking hand in hand) is the plastic sensitivity, the artistic quality, the constant inventiveness of this work. His fragility and his self-confidence amaze us like that of the tightrope walker.
His art seduces us in what it summons the unstable strength of the great works. Hieronymus Bosch’s shadow is omnipresent. The delicacy flirts with the madness. The pornography cannibalizes the eroticism.
Video T. Venkanna, embroidery on linen, Kalhath Institute artist residency, Lucknow 2019.