Write up by Michelle Caithness

Devi Seetharam was born in Thiruvananthapuram, India, a vibrant, humid, evergreen city and yet the warm, fertile, red earth and tropical foliage of this coastal zone are conspicuously absent in these works. Something very different is at play here. The artist has omitted signs of lush, superficial impression and instead constructed a focused dialogue of her own intention.

“The purpose of this series is to visually narrate the tales of another culture, the historical context and current realities.” Seetharam.

We often view works of art without knowledge of the artist’s own heartfelt narrative. It is entirely possible to perceive a message other than the one intended by the artist or to wander through a gallery scanning artworks which somehow fail to herald our attention. Another powerful possibility comes in to play when an artwork becomes memorable as its effects accumulate with time. The function of duality comes in to play here as the artist weaves together a physical and conceptual object of equal merit.

In Seetharam’s case the instantaneous impression, during which we are struck by our initial response to colour, scale, shapes etc, then gains momentum as further enquiry reveals what is being said to us and where the artist locates themselves. The artist is adept at balancing this duality of formal and conceptual elements, enabling her to entice scrutiny from a wider audience. Historical and cultural references, time; past, present and future and an austere aesthetic beauty are woven intrinsically together.

“The series “Brothers, Fathers and Uncles” illustrates a world where the postures and the remnants at the feet speak louder than the unseen and unheard conversations beyond the frames.” Seetharam.

Seetharam’s paintings are meticulous in their construction. A monochrome palette is used in combination with a matt surface. The resulting effect is the absorption of light in to a porous, dull concrete like surface that represent meeting places of condensed and trodden earth. The treatment of the white fabric of the traditional garment, the mundu, is reminiscent of a fresco surface in its chalky whiteness. Restrained colour is used sparingly within the thrumming, consistent beat of these highly organised images.

At first glance the white shapes appear to flash like semaphore flags, alerting us to some vital message. The contrast of minimal tones sets a volume control on our senses, so that we do not wander too far from a particular consideration of intention.

Time is encapsulated within scale and subject; the enigmatic cropping of life-size figures and generic limbs, speaks of the anonymity of mass consciousness, contrasted with tiny objects strewn around their feet.

Seetharam: “I’ve depicted the men with dark Dravidian skin, tackling their valued beauty standard. The ground is littered with different culturally tied details expressing the passing of time as their dominance weighs on their communities.”

“In a part of the world (Kerala, India) that claims to be matriarchal but is only matrilineal in social customs, the patriarchy is deeply entrenched. Men wield the authority to occupy public space wrapped in their traditional white wrap arounds, a symbol of their purity that legitimises their self-granted sense of status and morality. Women in their world are reduced to symbolic figures of beauty and desire. Objects that can be undermined with impunity.”

Seetharam is well placed to draw upon a broad range of cultural experiences and considerations within her work because before moving to Australia in 2016 she grew up living in China, Cambodia, South Africa, India, Switzerland, Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, Mauritius and the United Arab Emirates.

These changes of physical location have shaped the development of her work, she has absorbed and reflected upon social constructs and marginalised communities. ‘Brothers, Fathers and Uncles’ tackles deeply rooted issues, specifically patriarchy within her home community.

In the artist’s words: “As we move forward with equality, I draw from my own cultural heritage and its need to recognise the void in this aspect.”

Michelle Caithness, Artist, Melbourne