Artist T. V. Santhosh's works unravel the horrors of war

'History Lab and The Elegy of Visceral Incantations' makes viewers to self-introspect

Artist T.V. Santhosh Artist T.V. Santhosh

A glance at artist T.V Santhosh’s latest works reminds one of US singer Edwin Starr's chartbuster song: "War, What is it good for? Absolutely nothing". Only that the mood here is sombre and poignant, unlike the uplifting beats of Starr's classic track.

An exhibition of the artist's works, recent and from the past several years, was recently held at Durbar Hall Art Gallery in Kochi.

Inquisitively titled 'History Lab and The Elegy of Visceral Incantations', the works, both paintings and sculptures, throw up questions on the nature of violence, its commodification, and its impact on lives. Especially so in a world which has gotten comfortably used to violence.

Symbols of war, prosthetics, flags, and recurring motifs of human skulls and limbs feature in almost all of Santhosh’s works, adding a sense of morbidity to the paintings. But, there is also an antidote to all the violence that unravels in the forefront; the cleverly juxtaposed flora in the backdrop. Beyond raising rhetorical questions, his art also offers potential solutions to the chaos. 

Though he hails from Kerala, many observe that Santhosh's works have nothing Indian or Keralaesque in them. In a conversation with film critic C.S. Venkateswaran, Santhosh answers that his works are more cosmopolitan than tied to a specific place. 

"Questions like 'Who is the real enemy?' or 'Who is trapped?' can be applied in any context, place or time and still be relevant. This idea of the enemy can be highly problematic at times and could be addressed from various points of view. Politics, in my case, is not intentional, it may be there as part of a larger humanist worldview," the artist adds. 


In his series of paintings 'When The World Enters Your Home', Santhosh presents a powerful narrative wherein the mundane setting of a household collides with the harsh realities of violence. Through paintings depicting TVs playing visuals of houses burning or a bullet-riddled door, he vividly portrays the traumatic impact of violence on families, as if urging us to confront the unsettling intersection of the personal and the political. 

Covid also makes an entry in his paintings; 'Protagonist and His Clock of Apocalypse', and 'When World Was Gasping For Its Breath', both featuring a man in a white PPE kit. The 'protagonist' has an elongated clock in the former while in 'When World Was Gasping For Its Breath', we see the main character balancing a child, a teddy bear, and a crutch while sitting. 

Most of them have the same template; a yellow background giving a graffiti-like look to the paintings.


While Santhosh’s paintings may not have a regional element, his sculptures do. The wooden sculptures of gigantic 100 and 5-rupee notes behind wooden bars analyse the distance between the public and the state. Behind it, he deftly carves a list of a multitude of taxes that dictate the state’s relations with the public.

Santhosh also breaks the notion of watercolour being an inferior medium. "It’s a tightrope walk. I wet the paper completely so that there is an adequate amount of moisture. The rainy season is when it's best to paint watercolour. So I wait for the rains," he adds. 

He wants the viewer to engage with art not only as a visual experience but also as a catalyst for introspection and dialogue. The series of paintings 'Jumbled Monologue' or the title piece 'The Elegy of Visceral Incantations' enable this communication, sometimes as a soliloquy, other times as a politics that shouts at your face. 'Jumbled Monologue' has writings on it, which Santhosh says are partially autobiographical and partially based on accounts by victims of war. 

"I do not want to amplify the violence; the more you talk about violence the more it gets amplified. I’m stating that it’s there and that it’s a part of reality. The pain and suffering are there, but I do not wish to exaggerate it. I wish to put the question there," he remarks. 


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