“I Stand On The Side Of Justice” 22 May 2005
He voice of Indian Tamils will always sound on behalf of the Tamils of Tamil Eelam. If necessary, not only voice, but also their hands will rise up. So says the famous artist Pugazhenthi who is professor of painting at the Government college of fine arts at Kumbakonam.
He has painted pictures of the oppression against Eelam Tamils, the sufferings undergone because of war, the sufferings being undergone now and the history of the struggle. With his brush he has openly told this not only to India but also to the whole world.
He is attracted by the struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam. He is a professor who uses his brush to bring out the miseries and feelings and sufferings of the oppressed people and also against the oppressors.
He took his degree in painting from the Government college of fine arts, Kumbakonam and post graduate degree from the central university, Hyderabad. He is the first person from Tamilnadu to get a post graduate degree in painting.
In 1987 he got the national award for youth at Kolkotta, Tamilnadu state award in the same year, International Airport Authority of India award Dharmapuri human development centre award and many such awards.
In the national level exhibition held at Chennai, Delhi, Lucknow, Bangalore and Mumbai his paintings were exhibited.
In the important cities of South India and Tamilnadu, his one man exhibition 70 of them such as “Unslumbering Colours”, “Sheltered nest”, “Direction of the face”, “Mist” have been conducted in southern districts.
“20th Century. Unslumbering colours of a brush” this exhibition has been held not only in Tamilnadu but also in Malaysia and Singapore. It was a grand success. More than this, his exhibition was held in America, Canada, France, Denmark and Australia.
Pugazhenthi who has come to SriLanka now has conducted his exhibition about the history of Eelam war. It is called “Storming Colours” and he has exhibited them at Kilinochi and other places.
On the 18,19,20th of last month his exhibition was conducted at Kilinochi Aesthetic Society. We met Pugazhenthi who was quite brisk and busy conducting it. We met him and exchanged ideas.
Now we share with the readers the interview he gave to Dinakural.
We know your history. But tell us about life in the world of art
I am leading a life of art and public life for the past 23 years. Life of art and public life are merged in me. Particularly my early paintings deal with the sufferings and problems of Eelam Tamils and I have exhibited them in various parts of the world. Not only the sufferings of Eelam Tamils but also the experiences of other people have been expressed by me through my paintings.
You are exhibiting your painting exhibitions in various places of Eelam. What is the reason?
I have painted the different historical records of Eelam wars. These paintings should be taken to the minds of people, in the soil where these people have suffered. My aim is that that these people should understand and feel the message we speak about through these creations.
There are many famous artists in Tamilnadu. Excepting one or two all others are indifferent in their creation to bring out the sufferings of Eelam Tamils. In this situation what factors did induce you to bring out the history of the miseries of Eelam Tamils?
I joined as a student of Kumbakonam college of fine arts in 1983. In my school days, I had strong attachment to racial feeling and language feeling. I was born in Dravidian tradition. My racial feeling and language feeling helped me to learn the problems of the Tamil people.
When I entered college in 1983, there were serious ethnic riots in SriLanka in 1983. Condemning the killing of Tamils, students organized a major agitation in support of the Tamils. Thousands of people were murdered here and lakhs of Tamils entered India as refugees. In this situation student’s agitations assumed massive proportions. I took part in that agitation. The agitation spread in the form of demonstrations, processions and spread in different areas and spread in different angles.
As an artist I thought what I could do for this struggle and for the people. This is the result. I decided to paint the Eelam war and struggle, their sufferings and them take it in the midst of people. Through that this liberation will get more support and attention. On this basis only I make exposures as paintings and I continue to do that. On this basis only, whatever happens in the world in support of humanism, my paintings speak about humanism. In whatever shape oppression comes either as colour mania, or as casteism or as religious bigotry, I am an artist who gives my voice in support of the oppressed people or in support of their struggle for their rights. Eelam liberation struggle has created such an outlook and such a thought in me.
There are many famous artists in Tamilnadu. Yet they do not have any awareness about the Eelam liberation struggle. What is your stand regarding this?
We cannot say that all the artists are like this and set them aside. Artist Veera Santhanam of Tamilnadu has done paintings on Eelam liberation war. He has drawn paintings on large scale and has exhibited them. Similarly artist Marudu too. Many artists have drawn paintings and thus have made their contribution. Although in the early stage, there were not many paintings about the problem of Eelam, there were one or two paintings on this theme. The political situation also may be cited as a reason for not expressing through paintings after a certain stage.
Because of this did you not have threats? Don’t you have any fear about this?
Creationwise and movementwise, when I express my feelings, I do not have any fear, because I stand on the side of justice and give my voice. I stand on the side of the suppressed and oppressed people and I speak on their behalf. In spite of this, I do everything knowing well that threats will come. I never do any action without expecting the consequence. I always expect that for every action, there will be a reaction. Like that I had some threats on some occasions. But a creative person cannot run away, being afraid of threats. A true creator must be very bold. I am also exactly like that. I raise my voice not only against atrocities in Eelam but also in India and all over the world. I come to the streets and agitate who ever may commit oppression, governments, government dependent organizations, religious fanatics, caste fanatics.
In this situation, we must undertake opposite activities. If all are frightened and stop talking, in the end there will be nobody to speak aloud about justice.
Sometimes we have to speak out the truth aloud. Sometimes it may be a lonely voice. If we think that all should come to do a thing, it may be delayed. Many threats may come, but all of them make me think and be active.
When compared with other fields of art, in Eelam, painting seems to be on the decline. There is also the complaint that students do not show much interest in it. What is your suggestion to remove these defects and make painting grow?
If any art is to grow, people should come forward to learn it with interest. You must create teachers to give training to students. It is the prime duty to create such teachers. If we create such teachers, the atmosphere to create good students will shape. If good students are shaped that will help the emergence of good artists. In India there are many fine art schools, both private and government. Painting is taught there. Many universities give them recognition. Such a one which has various stages of growth, has now reached a state of stagnation. In this country where you have no such facilities, it is unavoidable that painting has a downfall. To change this, you must establish art education in various levels.
As a first step, you must conduct workshops in many places to nurture and grow their interest and also to increase their talent. I believe that by doing so, you can create in this soil talented and thoughtful painters. I have 25 years of experience with Eelam Tamils. I can see that in this soil there are very many thinking youth. There are bold, vigorous talented youth in this soil. They need good guidelines. If we give them proper guidance, we can expect good results in this soil.
You are a man of art and literature. In this capacity how do you distinguish between art and literature in Eelam 20 years ago and art and literature after the cruel war?
I know more about art and literature of Eelam within twenty years. I do not know much about the art and literature of the earlier period. I have read a few. I have read the interview of some men of literature and art. For the past 25 years I have been reading such literature, poem and novels. I have assimilated them very much. Here there is the growth of the art of struggle. Just as black race novels and poem added strength to their struggle, Palestinian poems on struggle play a role in the liberation of that land, in a similar manner, poems on Eelam liberation, short stories and other writings have a great role in the Eelam liberation struggle.
Scholars and writers of Eelam have made creative writings praised by the whole world. We can compare the struggle based literature of this world with the literature of Eelam. In that manner the literature of Eelam has given great hopes. Good literature will be born only from the atmosphere of struggle. On that basis, this soil has good literati, good fighter poets and artists.
How do you compare artists of Eelam, with those of Tamilnadu?
Basically I took at both as Tamil artists. Living in Tamilnadu, there are some like Eelam Tamil artists. Remaining in Eelam and calling themselves artists there are artists who teach third rate things. It is not important in which soil they are. But it is important how they act. On that basis, as I have the mind to accept the artists of Eelam, there are some rejected by me. There are some artists who have very bad ideas. There is good and bad on both sides. I will always support artists who always express what they think right.
When many creative artists of Tamilnadu express or write about the problems of Eelam, how is it that among the people of Tamilnadu there is not much of awareness about the problems of Eelam?
I am not able to accept this point of view. The people of Tamilnadu are very clear about the problems of Eelam. They have understood the problem clearly. Whenever the problem of Eelam struggle is brought forward or progresses, the people of Tamilnadu have never hesitated to celebrate. They have assimilated these to a great extent. When the people of Eelam are annihilated or suffer from miseries, I have seen people weeping for them. But for certain political reasons the leaders who lead those political parties are hesitant, and these people are pushed to a situation of being not able to raise their voice. I do not think there is any other reason. The people of Tamilnadu are always in support of the liberation of Eelam Tamils. To day the situation and atmosphere in Tamilnadu are changing. Even political situation has changed. There is awareness among people. Only the leaders who lead them sometimes stop them. I consider this to be wrong.
What are the positive and negative points in the world of art and literature arising out of the migration of Tamil Eelam people?
The migrated people of Tamil Eelam people have globalized the Tamil art and literature. It has been made possible only by Tamils of Eelam. I used to think whether Tamil literature would have reached world wide if there was no Eelam struggle. The struggle of Eelam has taken Tamil literature to the corners of the world, because of the high price people have paid. Today if my paintings have reached global level, Eelam struggle is only reason for it.
As an artist what do you want to say to the artists, and literalti of Tamil Eelam?
As an artist and social fighter, I say that artists of the soil should do actions that strengthen the struggle. They must also do creative actions that sharpen the movement and the struggle. That is the service they can render to the soil and the people. I expect fundamental basic creations from the artists and creators of this soil.
Finally, realize and understand that the people of Tamilnadu always stand on the side of Tamils of Eelam. They will never abandon you or your struggle. Certainly, there is justice in your liberation struggle. The people of Tamilnadu stand on the side of this justice. The voices for that are rising there, not voices alone; if need be our hands also will rise. I want to tell this strongly to your people.