More Than What We Should Accept, We Should Be Very Clear About
What We Should Reject
Udayan 25.5.2005, 29.05.2005
More than what we should accept we should be very clear about what we should reject” says the famous, artist from Tamilnadu Mr. Pugazhenthi, who is one of the admirers and well-wishers of the Tamils of Eelam.
He records through painting the struggles, miseries and sufferings of the struggle of the Tamils of Eelam.
Living in Tamilnadu, without being afraid, and never yielding to pressures and threats, he has given his voice through his paintings in support Eelam Tamils, for their leadership and on behalf of justice.
He has set his foot on the soil of Eelam along with his paintings and in addition to conducting exhibitions; he conducts workshop and training in painting.
We met him at Vanni where he was staying and he had a very emotional conversation with us.
This the interview he gave for Udayan
We have known you only through your paintings. Could you tell us something about your early life.
My early days were spent at Thumbathikottai village in Thanjavur district. Here only I spent my childhood and boyhood days. Village life is a very important life. It is an agricultural life depending on and surrounded by fields. My school days were spent in that atmosphere. I have drawn a number of paintings in my school days. Whatever appeared to me as painting I drew it. Particularly I have drawn flowers, plants, natural scenery and many such similar things. To put it in particular, in these days, lampposts, walls, sand spreads, were my field for painting.
Charcoal pieces, green leaves were my art materials. This was my foundation, my basics, my fundamentals. After finishing my college education, I joined government school of fine arts at Kumbakonam.
Whom do you consider your role model
At the starting point no one was my role model. To put it as special and important, I must say that the pictures in the magazines induced me very much. Particularly illustration for stories attracted me and drew my attention. I drew many paintings looking at them. In later years they appeared to me not so good. It induced me in the beginning. I don’t deny it. When I reached the level of an artist I had to see it only as very ordinary and commonplace. The pictures that appeared in Anandavikatan and Kumudam were great inducers to me. When I started as an artistic creator on my own, my creations were shaped without the influence or impact of anybody else.
Particularly the struggle of Eelam become very important. In 1983, I was a student in the college of fine arts. At that time a big student agitation was started. Many thousands of Tamils were murdered in Eelam. Many lakhs of Tamils were coming to Tamilnadu as refugees. The cry of death was ringing in our ears. These cries distorted my sleep. I remained in that sleepless state for many nights. I joined myself as one in that student agitation. Then I thought what I could do as an artist.
Then I decided that I should paint the racial murders, and the great sufferings of the Tamils during the days of the war for Eelam. Then I started paintings. That is how my creative life had its start. Before that, I was drawing only natural scenery, flowers, plants and creepers. Only thereafter, humanism, human revelations and outpourings, human sufferings, miseries induced me to give expression through painting. Whatever may happen in any nook and corner of the world, immediately my painting was created to create supportive voice on behalf of the suppressed, suffering humanity. Eelam struggle alone was the main reason for it. That changed me into an artist, liberation fighter.
We have seen the paintings of many people in Tamilnadu. Your paintings only reveal the inner feelings of man. In most of these you use men. Say some thing about it.
In my painting I speak only about man. When I speak, man is my body language. As language, I used many things. In painting, lines, space, colour each one is a language. Each one is a symbol too. When I use it as such, the subject matter or the theme is man. For this, I use human form itself as a proper, useful language. Besides, physiognomy can be used as a language and it speaks about the body also. Languages, speak beyond shapes, lines and speak the body language. I handle figures and shapes only by assimilating theme internally. What I want to convey strongly through them, these paintings create a state, which gives out the message firmly. Only for this, I use human forms. It becomes a language for me. My paintings continue to be so.
Your paintings do not create any problem in understanding them. Here one opinion prevails that the paintings of many painters of Tamilnadu are not easy to understand. What do you wish to say about this?
This can be viewed in two ways. Speaking about my own painting is one way. To speak about others’ painting is another way. When we speak about this we should be very careful; because paintings are of different kinds. They are different trend too. My trend is quite a different thing. We want to present the problems of the people in the language of the people. That is our individuality or uniqueness but there are many other types. They are more prevalent and common now. Those paintings exist as the outward manifestation of the inner feelings. It is used as a medium.
If it is to be described in the language of painting it may be called figurative abstraction or abstraction. My paintings are mere figurative. The content is humanism. Politics is such that it may be called shape consisting of figurative and abstraction. It combines figure and abstract. My paintings are like this. That is my language. People understand it easily. It is a language easily understood by people; that is why we handle it. But the paintings of many painters are manifestations of abstraction. That is one trend. There is a complaint that many people do not understand it. That is true. I have no difference of opinion. In many varieties of style, they do not understand people. They do not know for whom they paint. They think that only what they express as their feeling is creative art. That is all. This will be a problem only for those who want to reach the people. For those do who do not care for this, it is not at all a problem, they are not worried about it. But we must understand one thing. There are many trends in art and literature. We know, which the people will accept and which they will not accept.
In all your paintings the human face appears covered with darkness. How do you paint assimilating Eelam struggle and retain it?
(After a brief silence, he answers with moist eyes) from 1983 onwards many kinds of news, Photographs, videos, and life of refugees who came to Tamilnadu affected not only me but also all people of Tamilnadu. It reached a peak. We always have a feeling that this struggle is a struggle for liberation by our brothers and sisters of Eelam. If you get a beating in Eelam, it gives us pain. That is how we look at it. This kind of feeling was strong everywhere and we were daily anxiously expecting the happenings here. We have a longing that it should go towards a conclusion. Our bodies are in Tamilnadu but our emotions are here. I have not come to this soil (earlier). I have lived with you in union for 23 years. That is why every event here from 1984 – 85, all incidents, news, all matters, the sad demise of Dileepan after a hunger strike, thus one after another all happenings were watched by me carefully and deeply. The most strong belief I have is that surely one day this land will get its deliverance. This is our small contribution expressed it through painting since it is a kind of weapon in my hands. Since I continued my contact with the struggle and people I could not go aside or cut off myself from them.
That is why I have attached myself to this struggle and its fighting people. Now my feelings have merged with yours.
It is a great pleasure for us to converse with you. We feel very happy whenever supportive voice is heard from Tamilnadu; because then we feel that we are not left alone. The producers of films consider Eelam liberation struggle commercially.
(Tenali – great human suffering was cheaply converted into a comedy)
The people must feel this. We should understand, which media, which art forms make this struggle appear cheap. We should be wide awake in this matter. We should have a clear idea whom to be identified in this regard. I feel sad that our Tamils do not have such an outlook. I do not refer to Tamils of Eelam. As far as I am concerned I do not distinguish or segregate one group of Tamils from another. The Tamils of the world should realize it. In general the Tamils of the world should be more careful about what they should reject than what they should accept. I say this wherever I go. We go on being cheated. They cheat us easily. We should not allow ourselves to be cheated. If we are vigilant about it our life will be in our hands. Other wise our life will be in somebody else’s hands. As you mentioned films like ‘Tenali and Kannathil Muthamittal’ do not come with the realization of our problems. They do not know politics. They do not need it. They want to make a living with their medium. That’s all.
The Tamil ruling class is never in support of Eelam Tamils. In this situation how do you estimate the feelings of the people of Tamilnadu?
Although the people of Tamilnadu cannot speak out openly, many people are about to weep for you. Tears are very powerful. It will burst forth one day. I am only in this external manifestation.
Although there are many artists in Tamilnadu, only people like you bring out creations about Tamil Eelam in spite of pressures and preventive laws why?
As far as I am concerned I think that creative artist has freedom. I will never allow any one to curtail that freedom. These paintings have been kept not only here but also in Tamilnadu. There is welcome for it in Tamilnadu. It is not only today. All paintings from 1983 to 2003 have been exhibited. Not only that there is recognition for such creations. Nobody can stop the expression of his creation. No body can muzzle the mouth with lock and key. You can prevent or stop for a particular time. But the more it is blocked, the more pressure will it get and finally burst forth one day. These have been exhibited in big cities, towns and villages in Tamilnadu. I did not stop with Eelam. We oppose all types oppression taking place in any part of the world and support all types of human liberation. We give our voice for all the oppressed in the world to get liberation. Colour mania, casteist mania and language imposition are all opposed by us. Only when we oppose we get more strength.
We have got our own politics. The strength and the depth of that politics stands as additional strength. There are many progressive movements in Tamilnadu and all of them assist me in my artistic activity.
If you think that you can easily suppress a creative work it is not possible. I am not a man to bow before it. I don’t think any one can control me. Today we conduct our exhibition all over the world. All people know that I have come to SriLanka to conduct exhibition. There can be no obstacle to exhibit or bring to the open, to the public any creative work. We must be open in that. There is truth, justice in that work. This truth and justice pave the way and direct me.
When you are in Tamilnadu and when you are in Tamil Eelam during your conversation, how do you the state of your feelings?
I have the same feeling. I don not have two different feelings. This land or soil may be new to me. But the people are old to me. I have relations with the people’s war for 23 years. By coming here I could get some information which I could not get through the media.
Starting from traditional painting there are different kinds of art. Your painting is different from them. On what does depend the growth of your painting?
Generally the language media are different for short story, verse. Painting is visual language. For we look at it as a common language for the whole world. The stone age man reflected his life through rock paintings. he used it to speak with his co human beings. He had in the beginning paintings only on fishing and hunting; closely related to life. Later the life led in that atmosphere was found in cave painting.
What do we see today in Ajanta, Ellora paintings. They have recorded about their life. As a continuation if we see European paintings they have exhibited their Christian religious manifestations as paintings in churches. The same state continues even in modern painting. As far as I am concerned I consider painting as a medium of recording our ideas regarding our life and struggle and politics.
In your paintings we are able to see the expression of feeling as in the European paintings of the war period. Your comments.
There was a situation to present things as they were. That is the quality of exhibiting. I think that these modern paintings express the inner feelings of the heart.
Please tell us the painting techniques of the ancients and the modern painting techniques used by man now?
There are two types of growth. In olden days man prepared colours with the help of herbs. He drew pictures using them. But today owing to scientific growth different types of colours have come into existence. Oil colours, water colours, acrlylic colours have come into existence. This is very great growth. Science has developed in many fields. Painting also is one such field. Then there is growth in the manifestation of a painting. You can look at it as growth. If we look at it on the level of the world, outward exposition, revelation will be coming out at various levels. We may agree or disagree with it. We can not always support all things or contradict them. If we take today’s art and literature. Painting alone stands as an example. It remains as an opening. If at all there is a great change it will take place only in the field of art. The reason is, there was necessity in the starting days to paint things as they were. Then the photo camera brought about a big change. Since it came, the artists had the necessity and urge to create something new.
Therefore they prepared themselves to create new things. That is why movements were born in Europe.
This change took place in Europe first. Then only change took place in the field of writing and modernism and post modernism and other ‘isms’ are coming, I have seen the peak in different types of painting, there is one called installation! I do not agree with it. A question arises how far these will be useful. Some may think that sometimes I am not able to understand them. They create feeling of alienation between truth and reality. I think that this has no contact with people. When we see such creations in Germany, America and France and other Europen countries, even in those countries there is difficulty in assimilating them. They do not internalize them. Some people there discuss it as modern and ultramodern. Even in a state of abstract, people were discussing it. There was even exchange of ideas. But having installation as the form, at world level, it has taken a huge shape with many things as basic and they bring out art creations. There is no permanence in it. They will exhibit and after the exhibition they will destroy it and go away. There is nothing more in that creation. They convey one message. I am also able to feel it. As far as I am concerned, for exhibiting form in many places, handling, it becomes very useful.
The contradiction becomes strong only in the basics, and not in the way they handle the form. I felt that when people were witnessing it. Today the trend has come even in India. Many young artists are following installation. I have some objections to their manifestation. The reason is that those who handle it do not have the thinking or idea to reach different places. The contradiction is based only on the basics at this growth as change. There is one question in its growth. But we should understand it. We have got our review as to what extent it will be useful. It is true that it leads to the next move. We have to approve of it . we have objections regarding its use to men. It may be wrong to day, tomorrow it may become a regularized one.
In the beginning there was opposition to modern painting. But today we tolerate it. That atmosphere has arisen today. What I handle is also modernism. People are not used to it. They do not have that much of training in it. Even those who are living in foreign countries, say after seeing it that it gives them swooning. They also look at it as alien. In India it is still worse even here, that we have made the familiar with it, it is because of taking these creations uninterruptedly among the people for the past twenty years. When we take it to the people they also get trained. Taking the painting to the people is one thing. Expressing our idea through paintings is a different thing. Although we give preference to the idea, the painting also goes along with it.
Even when we take the painting we take our ideas through that. We take both together, we train the people for that In Tamilnadu, In my exhibition called ‘Mist’, 27 paintings on different themes were exhibited, Gujarat massacres, America’s Iraq war, oppressive laws (Rowlett, Misa, TADA, POTA) atrocities against dalit at Thinniyam, etc. people did not stop with cinema only thinking that this in about a variety of topics. Even beyond cinema they want to see many things. But we are not ready to give. They want to see good films. Alas! There is no one to give them. The film world people, give sub standard films telling a lie that people’s taste is like this only. If good films are given, nobody refuses to see it. When the right things are given, people act rightly. That is my experience. They never give up their claim that good paintings are theirs.
About teaching painting
Painting can not be taught. Can any one teach you to write poems and modern verse? But we can be a guide to develop the talent which is already in them. We can teach the theory. As an experiment, we can show the way to it. When a student is painting we can point out the defects and the student can improve. The maximum number of workshops only will help the growth of the student. Doing painting alone is not their work. They have to speak and write about painting. A painter must have this quality. They should learn the history of painting. To paint, the history of painting is important and also the knowledge of it.
What about the manifestation of contemporary painting?
There are various trends. There is the stand “art for art’s sake”. There is also another view that it are should speak about society. As for me, I think that art should speak about the problems of the people.
I look at others’ paintings as a painter and creator. There are many views in society about paintings. They are particular about the money for which a painting is sold. I look at the thousands of people who see the exhibition and judge it on that basis.
Are you familiar with Tamil Eelam paintings?
I do not have much contact with Tamil Eelam paintings. I know the name of Mark. I have seen some of his paintings. I cannot speak much about Tamil Eelam paintings.
About conducting workshops
I have one thing to say about workshops. It can be used as a technique to nurture the growth of talented students. The students here appear to have not much of training. It is also a defect that properly trained teachers are very few. This workshop is not only for students but also for teachers. As I am interested in painting I am also very much interested in developing students. By conducting workshops here, I believe that in future good artists will be shaped. I see that in the past two days. All those who learn here cannot become painters. A few good painters will come; others can make a good life with what they have received here. That is what the workshop will achieve here.
A few talented people are found here. We can shape them into good painters by giving them continuous training.
Is there any possibility of conducting workshop in Yalppanam?
The works connected with it are going on. We are making arrangements at Yalppanam university and other places. I don’t know how?
Have you thought about any thing that cannot be conveyed through painting?
I have never thought that there is anything which cannot be conveyed through painting. Everything can be conveyed through painting. I have assimilated it to that extent. Because I have made it people’s art.