Reshma Thomas' morale took a deep hit when she missed community spaces, social gatherings and public interactions during the COVID-inflicted lockdown. However, the 'artivist' (a combination of the words artist and activist) - as she calls herself - found a way to tide over the crisis with a three-dimensional virtual exhibition that can be watched on mobile phone, TV or computer screen.
Apart from showcasing her works, the exhibition titled 'Of Roots and Connections' offers a 3D virtual tour of the art gallery.
“An exhibition in an art gallery seemed to be impossible in the near future. So, I identified a 3D platform, utilising the possibilities of technology,” recalls the Kottayam-based artist, who lives in Thiruvananthapuram with her parents Thomas and Jolly.
The exhibition will virtually continue till October 21.
Chance for introspection
What makes Reshma’s works stand out are not just the nostalgic theme but the interesting choice of mixed media too. The paints were natural dyes like turmeric and the canvas was handmade organic paper. All the works have the imprints of lucky red seeds (manchadikkuru), a metaphor for nostalgia and bygone days.
“The element of lucky red seeds takes us back to the roots, resurrecting the past from the memories of good old days, wounds and tragedies. During these turbulent times, when celebrations of friendships and gatherings are affected, the virtual exhibition brings back everything we have forgotten. The lush green woods, blue ocean and the changing hues of horizon are blended to the nostalgic seed imprints on each work. These seeds thrust their way into my memories, bleeding onto the canvas, mixing and conversing with the colours and patterns that paint me,” says Reshma, who considers the exhibition as an opportunity for introspection.
“These paintings anchor me, they probe deep into the soil, where, deep down, my roots entangle with others. We are living at a time when nature is staring back at us in its most minute and subtlest form, and also with its most devastating impacts.
Certain memories we cherish rise up to hold us together in this moment of misery and suffering, certain objects assume vital significance, they glimmer and glow, reminding us of where we came from, the weary journeys we took, certain visions resurface like the trees that offered us shade, the springs that quenched our primal thirsts.
For me, these paintings were journeys towards the sources of my being and also an invitation to reconnect to the world and to reveal one’s self before the other,” Reshma reasons.
Transgender policy formulation
A doctorate holder in comparative studies on transgender life and healthcare, Reshma was part of Kerala’s first gender policy formulation. Identity, her first exhibition in 2014, featured 34 paintings that narrated the stories of LGBTQ+ community members, their trauma, the ostracism they face and how they were forced to flee their homeland.
Admitting that the exhibition served as an eye-opener to herself, Reshma says, “Those were the days many educated people in Kerala were reluctant to admit that our state is home to members of the LGBTQ+ community.
During the exhibition, I had many astonishing experiences. Once, a man came up to me and revealed that he was living as a married man with kids and would go on occasional escapades to some place far away where he dressed up like a woman, just to feel like himself. He was living in agony thinking that he had some illness. In another instance, a woman met me and asked for advice on ‘correcting’ her son who had ‘feminine traits’.”
Reshma tried her bit to convince them about their identity. The attempts got noticed and soon, with the support of the Department of Social Justice, she toured the state with her exhibition, taking it to people, attempting to create awareness.
Artivism took her places as she organised more solo exhibitions and workshops.
‘Mind network’ was on mental health awareness on issues like depression; ‘A is for Art’ expressed solidarity with the transgender community’; ‘The Secret Metamorphosis’ was a series of ancient Australian aboriginal bark paintings, and ‘Imprints’ was an attempt to artistically document childhood impressions of adults.
‘Of Roots and Connections’ is Reshma’s sixth solo exhibition.
Soon after normalcy is restored, Reshma will bring out a book under her project ‘Parenthood from Prison’, a compilation of letters of prisoners to their estranged children.
During a workshop among prisoners at many jails across the state, Reshma asked them to pen letters to their children.
“Many broke down while venting their hatred, pain and sorrows they have been holding back for years. There were people who had never met their kids for ages. Many hadn’t even told them that they were in prison. Experiencing the life of the incarcerated, I decided to bring out a book compiling letters, anecdotes and artworks, followed by another exhibition inspired from the prison diaries,” she says.
As someone who has taken it as a mission to tell the world about silenced or ignored issues, Reshma believes that art should speak to people and leave an impact. “It could be happiness, agony or rage, but the vibes they get have to be thought-provoking. Through art, I believe that massive changes are possible,” she says.
(Vandana Mohandas is an independent journalist based in Kochi)