India, Aug. 2010: ArtSlant writer Himali Singh Soin currently lives with Siddharth Kararwal at the Bangalore Artist Residency where they eat, drink, ponder, conjure, create, destroy and recreate things. Siddhartha Kararwal is a sculptor who lifts weighty issues with mundane objects using scrap materials like plastic bags, foam sheets, firecrackers, cardboard, bronze, iron, copper. He has upcoming shows at the end of September in Bangalore and at Sakshi Gallery at the Lalit Kala in November. Siddharth's blog is: http://siddhartha-sid.blogspot.com
Siddharth Kararwal, Dead Donkeys, sculpture; Courtesy of the artist
Himali Singh Soin: What is the first sculpture you made?
Siddharth Kararwal: I made a small random head out of dough. Then someone gave me clay, but I never took either seriously.
HSS: How did you know you wanted to be a sculptor?
SK: I used to doodle on the corners of my pages, but really I chose sculpture to escape computer classes. Firstly, you have to reach school by 8am. [Siddharth simply cannot wake up before noon—04—ever. He is a night man.] Then you attend classes all day. Science, chemistry and math. And at the end of the day, there was an optional subject, sculpture or computers. So I took sculpture. Then, I was accepted at MS University, Baroda, and untaught myself everything else I’d learnt in school!
Baroda is amongst the top three art schools in India. But even so, like many other institutions in India, their primary emphasis is the traditional still life, anatomical skill. The shift to the materials [I currently use] came from a boredom with the old materials like stone and fiber casts and marble—they’re too static, they simply just sit there—and also because of a lack of money. Garbage is free. That’s how my foam works began—my entire final show at college comprised 20 works from foam—it was simply the cheapest and still a visually quirky material.
Also, I saw a lot of exhibitions. I used to look at any catalogues that came to us and try to really analyze the thought process of artists, and of art lovers. Finally I realized they didn’t have a clue! They just wanted to show their faces at openings, or spend their money in something cool. I felt like I’d wasted years trying to understand something that didn’t exist. So I began making dead forms like my donkeys. But before that I became intrigued by mechanics. I made this box with winding keys and a bicycle that, when pedaled, birds would hover around you in flight. Enough of ‘stone’ sculptures, I said. Then I moved to performance with these sculptures, and videos—forms that don’t let the art just sit there.
HSS: So you don’t think art should have a direct social aspect?
SK: No, there should be. But if you feel for it, if you understand it, you have to be passionate about it.
Siddharth Kararwal, Skinnu, mixed-media; Courtesy of the artist
HSS:Yeah, that’s how the Iraq war performances were for me. The media didn’t propel the activism. It was from having friends who had just returned from there. Finding out not about the thousands of dead bodies but the fact that you couldn’t brush your teeth in the morning because there was so much dust in your mouth.
SK: Exactly. So I have this work called Skinnu. It was a small, tragic story that filled space for the newspapers. It happened walking distance from the house where I was staying. We were celebrating that night. Meanwhile, nearby, there was a boy who used to sleep at the station, and his mom, a sweeper, saved up money to buy him a blanket. Some guy came the next night, stole his blanket and killed him. And how did the cops find the murderer? He was the only person with a clean blanket.
So I got an old blanket and put lots of oil and dye and bleach to give it a texture. And I chopped it in the form of a skin. I took the newspaper article and made all the names derivative of ‘Skin’, kind of making fun of this tiny column that no one even reads, just like the little boy on the platform.
Siddharth Kararwal, Kalki, Photograph; Courtesy of the artist
HSS: In most of your works, you use stories. Kalki, this Skin story, the space dialogues--
SK: I watched a lot of cartoon network as a kid. All of Charlie Chaplin, Tintin, Tom ‘n’ Jerry. I think stories should be there. Without an intimate story, it would just be a large social cause. I always start with a story. Like the Jhandewalla idea—of passing flags made by me—with any non political design—to make friends in an area that seems otherwise threatening—came from a story from my childhood.
I was about 10 years old. My aunt had just taught me how to fly a kite. I flew my very first kite and then, within seconds, a black kite came and cut my string. I was in tears. So I tried again, with a lot of effort, and there were two black kites flying in the air. The same thing happened. Then I saw three. I became convinced that there was a kite flying gang out to get me. I began spying on them; their gang name was the black kite gang. So I called up my aunt and she flew hers, and they cut hers too. I was shattered. She had taught me, and even her kite got cut! So there was no hope for me.
The next day was [the Hindu festival of] makar sakranti. Downstairs there was a bonfire and popcorn to be had, but up on the terrace I was waiting for the black kite gang to leave. When it was almost dark only the gang of three was left. They started cutting each other. They killed each other. So I felt settled. They were not simply after me, but after each other as well. From then on, I only flew a black kite, thus the Jhande Walla project.
HSS: You are indeed a storyteller! So is Baroda that turbulent? Are you scared living there on a daily basis?
SK: Yeah. Definitely. I mean the thing to do in Baroda is get into random fights in the alleys with local gangs. I mean, you’re walking home in the evening quietly, holding clay in your hands, and on my balcony there are these eight or ten guys perched with bricks in their hands. They sit around and throw bricks at passer-bys. I was shit scared living there sometimes.
Siddharth Kararwal, Bricks in Space, mixed-media; Courtesy of the artist
HSS: Have you ever used a brick in your work?
SK: No. Actually, wait yes. Twice. But so what—this is a silly question.
HSS: No! Its not. You have no idea what influences your work. Have you ever tried to make anything that has to do with your dad?
[Siddharth’s father is a former policeman who was estranged from his family years ago when he became involved in money scams].
SK: Yes, but they’re personal. I was really into guns. Actually, I would steal his guns and he showed me how to shoot. He bought me an air gun. And then I got into shooting for a while. At the time, I didn’t see the connection, but a lot of my works have guns.
Siddharth Kararwal, Money Gun, Sculpture; Courtesy of the artist
HSS: Yeah, you always draw with guns; you have the fat lady with the gun...
SK: Yeah, my characters protect themselves, because they feel sorry for themselves. They gain strength from their guns.
I made this other work. [Money gun]
This is actually exactly to do with the scams.
Siddharth Kararwal, Fat Man Big Gun, Mixed-media; Courtesy of the artist
HSS: But then what you do with these guns is very interesting. The men have weird distorted faces; no body with a gun is normal. They’re childlike, distorted.
SK: They’re not comfortable in their bodies. At times they hide their expressions too.
I did my final presentation on the academic topic of ‘aesthetics’ and I did it on violent toys: guns. I just want to meet my dad and solve my issues with him.
HSS: Hmm. Interesting. In a way, a lot of you is created by accepting your history and kind of parodying it as a way of dealing with it. What has been the most important element in your life as an artist thus far?
SK: It’s all about friends. My gang of 3 and me- we always help each other, financially and in manpower. Before my big show, I got my friends to mold or cast my works with me; we finished 20 works in 2 months. Now they’re used to it. Uh-oh, Siddharth is calling. Then, whoever gets his work sold throws the party and gives half his earnings [which he doesn’t know what to do with anyway] to the others so they can continue creating.
Artslant would like to thank Siddharth Kararwal for his assistance in making this interview possible.
--Himali Singh Soin