Reconstructing Corrosion: A Conversation with Pallavi Govindnathan
Poornima Paidipaty: Seeing your two series of paintings, I am reminded that many early splatter artists saw their work as documentation, as traces of the force and the movement that went into producing it. One cannot easily capture movement on canvas, but splatter is what is left behind in the wake of movement. In that sense, your paintings are documentaries in two ways, since your own movements as an artist re-create a disfiguring attack and also the scars it left. I was hoping that you would take us through the steps of this double documentation. It must have been difficult to approach and to study such visual disfigurement in the first place, in part because these attacks are designed to shame their victims. How did you approach your visual study of wounds that are already an assault on visuality, that challenge and disturb our gaze as spectators?
Pallavi Govindnathan: A lot of artists feel that their works are stronger if they themselves have experienced the subject in some form. They have endured discrimination or difficult times in their own lives and make this the focus of their art. I went through a phase of believing that my art would work best if I myself was directly involved in the material. But when I went to Bangladesh and visited these women, I realized that as an artist I had an obligation — especially living in today’s society — to create works that addressed different social and political contexts. Also, being multicultural and having a nomadic lifestyle, I feel the responsibility of connecting and respecting different cultures and traditions while reserving the right to be critical of them.
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The paintings by Pallavi Govindnathan appear in her book Corrode: An Artist’s Response to Acid Violence in South Asia (New Delhi: Roli, 2009).