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Premalatha Seshadri

Premalatha
Seshadri

Biography

Near Cholamandal Artist Village lives one of the most important senior female artists of Tamil Nadu, Premalatha Seshadri. A student of the maestro of the south, K.C.S. Panniker, Seshadri's' work has, through its differentiation, defined the contours of the Madras Movement of the early 1960s. Disinterested in Tamil Nadu's rich Dravidian Hindu artistic heritage, and therefore flying in the face of much of Panniker's teaching, her art only has its driving line in common with other artists in Chennai such as A.P. Santhanaraj, L. Munuswamy and R.B. Bhaskaran. However, her employment of this line is quite different. Seshadri has for many decades been inspired by the simplicity and truthfulness of Zen poetry and literature and applied this thinking to her line and her content.The South Indian Pallava prince-turned-monk, Bodhidharma, came to China during the rise of Tamil Buddhism in South India to teach a special transmission outside scriptures, not founded on words or letters. This idea is important in relation to Seshadri's art. It can be understood as both a renunciation of theory, the Nativist words of Panniker doctrine, in favour of a more discreet, refined approach to her art-making, as well as a need to perhaps arrive at the same end of finding a truly Tamil art form through an unconventional pathway such as the little-known and unexpected starts of Zen Buddhism.

The content that Seshadri uses as a vehicle for her exploration of an alternate Tamil form is also unexpected. She chooses the subject of birds, unclassifiable for the most part, anonymous and homogeneous, as her focus of interest for the last decade. The birds, made up of a selection of minimalist, seemingly unrelated movements of pen, brush, marker and crayon movements in subtly different colours, give the birds either an over-sentimentalised character (where they are very many birds to be admired and cooed over) or else a stand-offish, uprightness (where they are anthropomorphically transformed into English gentry or certainly members of the upper classes of Colonial India). It is interesting that these are the two poles: Human aristocratic pretension and ill communication or else idealised animal behaviour. There is no mid-point for us to see ourselves in these works. We either idealise life or relate to it by its alienation. Perhaps by showing us these two poles, the artist is subtly showing us the way? Perhaps this is her special transmission: that our appreciation of her work either for its utopian element or for its unattractively human features is to avert our eyes to imperfection and to concentrate on pretension and posturing over honesty and truth. Either way, there is a humility and refinement to Seshadris art that is lucid. This is both because of her very specific choice of medium, her individualised lines or marks, and her equally calculated choice of support whether it be thick even white paper or thin, transparent rice paper with a rough edge. Each work seems highly-conceptualised, far from accidental, meticulous, yet has the airiness of chance and ease engrained.

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