WORK by MEENATCHI GOPAL
Born and raised in Tamil Nadu in India, Meenatchi is a contemporary artist and is a member of the UK-based art collective, Kalaimaiyam. She is the founder of Gochi Academy of Creative Arts that promotes artistic practice and works directly with young people.
Meenatchi’s work reflects her research on cultural change, partly through the lens of migration. She explores similarities in different heritage contexts and women’s contributions towards the younger generation. Her work is born out of conversations that are reflective of a non-hierarchical engagement with different diasporic artists to develop a culturally diverse collaboration.
The Flower Seller
Meenatchi’s ‘Candy Lady’ and ‘The Flower Seller’ depict the colourful candies and flowers as part of her works on women’s labour and the lost world of rural livelihoods in India embedded in her childhood memories. Her paintings replete with imaginaries of a shattered world have the inimitable trademark of ‘broken lines’. The lines represent her torn emotions, hidden conditions of poverty, intergenerational relations and deteriorating livelihoods based on traditional occupations (as heritage). The artist’s creative ‘broken lines’ speaks to the inequalities and asymmetries of female labour while connecting migrant memories to a sense of loss. However, once broken these lines of connection and memories are also reconstructed on different premises.
Village Mortar’ evokes a sense of heritage that has cross-cultural value in the life of a diasporic artist. Here, rural heritage has transnational sensory implications that can be connected to the immediacy of material well-being such as food and its key place in community bonding.
‘I have used two different types of women using the style of clothes and hair and the colour. The reason behind using two different styles of women’s is due to its cultural coincidence as the women from Nigeria use the same kind and same way of this mortar usage.’
In ‘The Women’ series, Meenatchi talks about how women subject to patriarchal domination would think about those from younger generations, especially when faced with newer forms of domination and abuses:
‘I created a unique line (broken lines) to express how things change in generation and how broken the heritage is. I say the story of how things changed, how culture turned towards the modern world, how the abuses and caste rules and how our cultural food is given up through my paintings. Most of my current painting is from the memory of what my father shared and what I have seen as a child.’
The Women II
‘The Women II’ is a series in the collection of paintings that speak to the importance of material objects, such as the artist’s memory of the details of the jewellery used among upper classes; and how these are embedded in a value system that distinguishes households within communities and remain as a marker even in diasporic life. Meenatchi recalls how wearing each piece of jewellery was considered a marker for good health and well-being. For instance, she recalls: ‘My grandmother used to tell me that nose piercing can reduce anger. Wearing a bangle can help certain nerves to control the blood flow.’
‘As the days go by, most things that were part of my childhood were either destroyed or stopped, and the villages which were green turned into modern cities and people became busy. The games I played with my friends are no longer played.’
This reflection is part of the imagery of festivals featured in her painting of the Pongal [Tamil Hindu harvest festival] that is celebrated among the diaspora community.