Katharina Kakar explores gender issues through works made of spices, condoms, wax, ash...
Pepper and chillies, cloves and coconuts, wax and ash, perfume and paint — German artist Katharina Kakar redefines and transforms these spices and attempts at exploring their intrinsic nature and cultural significance at an ongoing exhibition titled Crossing the Lakshmana Rekha: Shakti, Sensuality, Sexuality. The artist employs these everyday items to address awareness against grave gender issues of rape, female foeticide, domestic abuse and sexuality through her artworks. “These spices are symbols of feminine power,” she says.
Chillies make for a very powerful and communicative tool in a work titled Desire — a wall hanging made of chillies, copper, horsehair, cloves and acrylic paint. Explaining her choice of ingredients, Katharina asserts, “Red chillies are a potent metaphor for inner heat, desire and passion and is symbolic of female fertility, sexuality as well as rage and makes for an ideal tool to express my thoughts.”
Talking about some of her most cherished works, she says, “December 26, 2012 is a floor installation of wooden items made from a traditional metal workshop and copper rod. This work refers to the December 16 Delhi rape case that triggered protests across the continent and led to a heightened awareness of gender issues in India.”
Her environment gives her ideas for her artworks and constantly inspires her. She explains, “At times, I walk on the beach, and thought processes start, at times I read or see something that inspires me and gives me ideas. I usually note down those ideas and it can take a year or longer, till they find their way into my art. I am constantly inspired by my environment and things around me. Since my environment shapes me as much as I shape it, I am interested in the intrinsic nature of materials around me, I like to play and find ways of transforming objects into something else, playing with the meanings attached to certain materials. It stimulates my curiosity. I also draw, which is my evening meditation.” Katharina was born in Europe but chose to settle in Goa in 2003 with her husband, veteran psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar.
She calls herself a “cultural bridge builder” as living in Germany and India has given her an outsider and insider’s view of both cultures. “My husband loves my work and is very supportive,” she says. As art history and psychoanalysis are interdisciplinary subjects that rely on imagery for their very existence, does that lead to interesting dinner table conversations at home? She quips, “Oh yes! Since I come from a different background, having studied anthropology and comparative religion, we always have debates about issues that matter to us. Visual arts, dreaming, transforming one’s imagination in new bodies of art is another cross-pollination where psychoanalytic thinking is a means that flows into my conceptional work.”
For Katharina, ‘design’ focuses more on decoration, while ‘art’, the way she relates to it, pushes boundaries and demands debate. “Art, unlike design, has been and always will be an advance guard. It often mirrors processes that are taking place in a given time and space,” she says.
Artists who inspire her are too many to name, she says, adding, “However, a few artists whose work encouraged me to start exploring visual arts as a medium of tackling my own inner landscape include Richard Serra’s ‘participatory’ approach; Marina Abramovic’s confronting and drawing the visitor into the artist’s issues of trust, endurance, catharsis and departure; William Kentridge’s ambiguous storytelling and uncertain endings; Christian Boltanski’s raw exposure of loss. There are, of course, also a range of contemporary Indian artists, whose works engage me, such as Anish Kapoor, Anindita Dutta or Riyas Komu’s body of work.”