As Hemalatha Senathipathi’s solo exhibition at Art World in Chennai enters the second week, the creator has once again clinched a special place in the hearts of viewers with more than 60 pieces of mystical sculptures in the form of brilliant hued, playful Ganeshas, Krishnas, Peacocks, Fish, human figures and many more. Imparting a life of colour, sheen and magic to metals, molding them into forms that delight and intrigue the mind, stretching the limits of imagination and convention - these are a few things that she is passionate about and considers the calling of her life.
For Hemalatha, the pursuit of artistic expression is something that began three decades ago while still a child, in the Cholamandal Artists’ Village, set by the sea in Chennai of the eighties! A childhood soaked in the sounds of metal beating and the sight of marvellous artistic compositions, taking form at the hands of her father, M. Senathipathi – the nationally acclaimed artist and sculptor and the works of a number of other senior artists, discussions about art - all set ablaze a trail of creativity within the young and talented Hemalatha, propelling her over the years, slowly but certainly onto the galaxy of brilliant creators.
Genetics, talent, hard work, focus, a supportive family and an inherent need to express herself, independently contributed to the growth of Hema as a sculptor of repute. She started her tryst as her father’s assistant helping him in his works and today she is one of India’s most innovative and imaginative artists whose designs are both contemporary and mythical at the same time.
Her chronicle across the world of art began when she was still very young, by drawing portraits of visitors to their home on paper using pencil. Later, she began toying with scrap metal left behind after her father’s metal work and ended up designing pendants, earrings, bowls and trays which won buyers. Over time, she moved to metal relief works and the first such, of Lord Ganesha was bought by a westerner. And then sculptures and painting happened as a natural consequence of her creative extravaganza.
The world of metal works has always been considered a male bastion and in many ways it is still very hard to find women thriving in this field which calls for immense physical strength to weld and mould metal. However, her experience watching her father at work in his studio, ample training by him, her inherent talent, perseverance and resolve helped her break the mould and establish herself with exquisite pieces of art that amalgamate the freshness of modernity and the charm of an era lost to time.
The Three dimensional Bull, Bi-Duo Choirs, Dancing Couples and other figurines are as numinous as her divine characters. Each piece showcases a rare craftsmanship by the delicate weaving of metal into forms that have an other-worldly feel about them.
What runs as an undercurrent beneath her sculptures that display finesse and expertise is the play of a highly imaginative and artistically unsettled mind that blends into the forms, various influences like African tribal art and Indian iconography. The forms are not mere reproductions of convention but they are designs that contemporize mythical characters through an intense and cumbersome process of meticulous and aesthetic planning. Ideas are welded into metal and brightly colored enamel imparts the glow to the intimate details lending exuberance to the characters, most of which are dynamic like the Hamlet Lady, Dancing Fish and so on. Her protagonists are not only characters from mythology but there are also thematic renderings that express emotions and moments. Enchanted by the Peacock, this bird is a recurring motif in many of her works, so also is the fish.
She says, “Metal sculpture is a part of our Indian tradition and our idols, temple pillars, doors, ceiling and walls are all made up of Bronze with embossed work on it. In these types of ancient technology I used to make sculptures in contemporary style. Actually, I want all my works to represent real images, but I don't reproduce them exactly. I want an artistic expression to come out of them”!
She has participated in several group shows, two man shows and four solos so far. Her sculptures have been auctioned across the country and her works in different sizes are part of private and corporate collections worldwide. In 1991 she received the Tamil Nadu State Award from the Lalita Kala Academy and the mother of two is currently an Executive Board Member of the Progressive Painters’ Association at Cholamandal Artists’ Village in Chennai.
It is not easy being a woman in a man’s world and despite being the daughter of M.Senathipathi, veteran of the Madras Movement, her journey has not been easy. She laments, “Women constantly have to prove themselves and are always placed only in the second line. Only the moneyed and well connected get the exposure”. Like in the corporate world where women fight a tough battle for space alongside their male counterparts, in the art world as well, women struggle constantly to secure their space. There is certainly angst within our female artists who must push harder against the current and this is perhaps why their creations often bear the hues of their trials adding several dimensions and layers of charm and intimacy to their art. In Hemalatha’s sculptures and paintings too, this element of closeness is a palpable flavor, enticing viewers onto a journey where the boundaries of imagination are often tested, broken and rewritten!