Shakuntala Kulkarni is a Bombay based, Karnataka born multidisciplinary artist who was trained at the Sir JJ School of Art, MSU Baroda, as well as Santiniketan under Somnath Hore. Originally trained in mural painting, Kulkarni’s work continued in the vein of addressing large audiences, but shifted from flat surfaces into sculpture, performance, and new media. Her work is primarily concerned with the plights of urban women who are held back by traditional patriarchal constraints, capturing the wounds and anxiety that come from those constraints in a vein similar to Hore.
In her 1994 work ‘Beyond Proscenium,’ which began the experimental and performative practice that she is now celebrated for, Kulkarni created a sculptural stage of wood and acrylic painted canvas. This work drew Kulkarni’s relationship with space off of two dimensions, and viewers, dancers, musicians, writers, and other performers activated Kulkarni’s sculptural space. Through creating such sites and spaces, Kulkarni creates a space for empowerment, especially for women. In 1996, Kulkarni created an installation called ‘Caryatid- a Viewpoint,’ reflecting on the idea of women as the supporters of religious structures, and women as the supporters of society.
In a multimedia installation titled ‘Reduced Spaces’ from 2001, Kulkarni addressed the claustrophobia, fear, and alienation that women in India often feel due to societal constraints, and invited viewers into a difficult to navigate bamboo and gunny sack structure where they could physically connect with the claustrophobia experienced by the female protagonist displayed in 5 video works. Live performance also played into this work, and a dancer explored tai chi based movements to demonstrate the explosive female energy that can pervade restricted space.
Kulkarni is able to represent tension not only through space, but also through time, addressing generation gaps. In ‘Ajjincya Goshti (Grandmother’s Tales),’ a three channel video work from 2004, viewers experienced takes on middle-class societal norms from guardians of tradition, elderly women between the ages of 78 and 86. Responding to questions about social order such as “who has the right to speak and for whom and about what?” viewers are able to see the tension between ageing Indian values in the face of India’s fast-paced modernization.
In her 2007 solo exhibition at Chemould Prescott Road, ‘and when she roared the universe quaked,’ the artist interspersed interactive installations and video works with large-scale two-dimensional paintings on fabric, where she explores the paradoxes of the female body in psychologically layered works such as ‘Unsung Epics V.’ In the title work of the exhibition, the artist placed 152 paintings made from acrylic, glass, and fabric on the ceiling, inviting viewers to become a part of the installation by viewing the paintings through reflections in hand-held mirrors. In line with her works from the 90s, the viewer becomes a part of the artwork.
Furthering this idea, Kulkarni exhibited a celebrated body of work, ‘Of Bodies, Armor, and Cages,’ in 2012 at Chemould Prescott Road, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, the MMKA in the Netherlands, and Art Unlimited at Art Basel. Kulkarni explored the idea of women in public spaces, and created sculptural armors out of cane that not only protected the female protagonist, but also elevated her to a goddess-like stature. However, there is a tension between the notion of being protected and the notion of being trapped. In a series of performances documented in photographs, the protagonist stands in different historically important locations in Bombay that are in danger of being destroyed, using her armor and will to protect her city from cultural invasion.
© Chemould Prescott Road