Till the beginning of the 20th century, sculpting was widely regarded as the preserve of male artists. In recent times, though, sculptures and installations made by women artists have emerged from a dissolution of stereotypes—of both materials and processes. They are challenging the very norms of creation—by burning, splintering, purging, dissolving, shredding and ripping. Perhaps, therein they let bask as many metaphors for the destruction of taboos, suppression, patriarchy, corruption and discrimination. We spoke Benitha Perciyal, the Chennai-based sculptor who tells us it’s all that, and so much more.
Benitha Perciyal remembers her earliest doodles rendered on the walls of her childhood home in Tiruvannamalai. She says, “When painters were called in to whitewash the house around Christmas time, my father would instruct them to skip the walls that held my childish sketches.”
‘Me as a Woman, My Thoughts a Thousand‘ at Yinchuan Museum of Contemporary Art in China
Her family, she says, is as lovingly supportive of her even today. “I rarely make works with the express purpose of an exhibition, because I get stuck when I have to work according to timelines. I know that makes me very difficult to work with,” she says sheepishly. Despite her ‘difficult’ ways, Perciyal is a widely admired sculptor—her works have been exhibited to stellar reviews at the Kochi Muziris Biennale, Centre Pompidou in Paris, Yinchuan Museum of Contemporary Art in China, and the Noble Sage Gallery in London.
‘The Fires of Faith’ at Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014
Critiques marvel at Perciyal’s oeuvre for the wisdom that shines through it. She believes, those are just learnings handed over to her by the materials she engages with: herbs, odd things found in garbage dumps, disposed teak wood, powders of coal and bark, incense, discarded religious figurines, seeds and fibres. “These materials guide me into the unknown, so I listen to them more intently than to any exhibition deadline or gallery calling,” she says honestly. She admits that her unbending ways can be perceived as pretentious eccentricity. At her studio, there are many sculptures that she has laboured over for years and completed, yet chooses not to exhibit. “They are the friends who sit quietly with me when I work.”
Photograph: Aniruddha Chowdhury /MINT (Benitha Perciyal)