Not many, barring the hard-core art afficianodos, are aware of artist T. K. Padmini, a strong feminine presence in the history of art in Kerala. Born in 1940 in Ponnani, she was a prodigy and developed a distinctive style in art. At a time when girls were not allowed to go outside the state to pursue education, she went to the Madras College of Fine Arts and Crafts and completed the course securing the first rank in painting.
Padmini courageously painted her thoughts on canvas. She was not scared of questions that society would ask for depicting nudity in her creations. And, exhibitions featuring her works were organised at the national level. However, Padmini and her works went into oblivion after her demise in 1969, at the age of 29 due to complications in delivery . For a long time, nobody talked about her.
Now, admirers of her boldness and artworks strongly believe that Padmini’s story needs to be retold. A few years ago, director Walter D’Cruz had taken a documentary on Padmini’s life. A biopic on her life and career is in the making. And, a group of young women have just come up with an exhibition—Ishika—commemorating the artist. The expo concludes today.
Beena Payyanadan, an artist, who takes part in the show, says Padmini has inspired her in evolving her own style. “I heard about Padmini first from my mother.”
“Padmini’s husband K. Damodaran was my mother’s neighbour. My mother had told me about Padmini and her works, which instilled in me respect towards her.
Later, I learnt more about her from the media,” recalls Beena. “She was hailed as an artist who could represent the country internationally. But, her sudden demise put paid to all expectations. In our society, there are many talented female artists who cannot come out due to family ties. Also reflect bold concepts. “Padmini has inspired me in this. She was fearless and didn’t follow any rules. Even female artists of this era will not dare to paint like her,” says Beena. The proceeds from this exhibition will be given to a cancer palliative care centre.
An art camp was also organised prior to the exhibition. Artist Kaladharan, who conducted it, says, “The current generation should study about T.K. Padmini. She has a great place in art history. There is a gallery dedicated to T.K. Padmini in Durbar Hall.”
For Susmesh Chandroth, director of the biopic on T.K. Padmini, it is a dream come true. “It was T.K. Gopalan, office-bearer of Padimini Memorial Trust, and a member of Padmini’s family who proposed this idea. I happily accepted the offer as I have been an admirer of Padmini since my school days. I came to know about her from articles that appeared in newspapers and journals during that time,” says Susmesh, a writer-turned-director. “If T.K. Gopalan of Padmini Memorial Trust hadn’t asked me to direct this movie, I would never have worn the director’s hat.”
According to him, Padmini brought out the emotions of women through her paintings. “Like Madhavikutty, Padmini was fearless and delved into the minds of humans,” he says.
Through the movie, Susmesh tries to show how a place and period shaped an artist. “Only an extraordinary talent could draw nude images impregnated with meaning. The nudity in her paintings not only delineated the beauty of women but also the revolutions inside her mind. Each of her paintings carried emotions of women and the suppressions she faced during those days,” says Susmesh. “In most of her photographs, she keeps her head down. But, that was only her outer self. Inside, she was revolutionary. She never allowed anyone to divert her path.”
Actor Anumol appears as Padmini in reel. “Anumol learnt painting for the character and has done justice to the character. This film is an effort to remind people about Padmini. It will be a realistic movie,” says Susmesh.
Padmini was fortunate enough to live with the family of poet Edassery. Those days may have shaped the artist in her. Walter D’Cruz’s documentary Pattam Parappikkuna Penkutti delves deep into the life and career of Padmini. It takes us to the tharavadu where she lived. “It was made in 2011 and won state and international awards,” says Walter. “Her uncle T.K. Divakaran motivated her to carry her passion forward,” says Walter and adds, “I believe we should honour her with the Raja Ravi Varma award. She deserves that. Nobody had given her what she deserves.”