Reflections of farmers’ suicides, widows in Kota Neelima’s paintings

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Kota Neelima

New Delhi– An author, artist and researcher, Kota Neelima wears many hats and is largely known for her research and art practice that centres on rural agrarian distress. Her 2018 book, “Widows of Vidarbha, Making of Shadows”, details the plight of farmers widows and so does her art that has drawn inspiration from the hope and reconciliation of these women.

Neelima recently showcased here a selection of paintings and photographs from Maharashtra’s Beed district in her ninth solo exhibition — “The Nature of Things: Death and Dualism in Indian Villages” — wherein the sales of her artworks contributed to the welfare of the farmers’ widows.

The Marathwada district where her research was focussed, has some of the highest number of farmer suicides in the country, and is a drought-affected region.

What inhabits the canvasses of the Delhi-based polymath is the leitmotif of moon and trees, among others.

Delving deep into what her paintings signify, Neelima told IANSlife that her art is a visual narrative of these widows, who spoke to her first-hand as part of her research on how they are surviving after the suicide of their husbands.

“Widows of farmers’ suicides are constantly struggling to visibilize themselves. In these struggles, there’s no one standing by them, not the state, not the society, not even the family, it is nature. They derive a lot of strength from watching how nature revives itself — how there can be hope.

“The waning and waxing of the moon are interpreted differently for a rural person than an urban person. They say that that the moon might vanish for the eye, but that doesn’t mean it’s not around. A tree might shed its leaves but it’s not going to die. It’s going to revive itself and in this natural process, these women find inspiration and strength to go on,” Neelima, 48, told IANSlife in a telephonic interview.

The “Shoes of the Dead” author finds a certain spirituality in the resilience of these women that propels them to beat the odds — despite being relatively disadvantaged in terms of gender, region, class, marital status and often caste.

“My effort is to turn the focus on issues like these which cannot wait and require urgent remedies and support.”

Neelima has been a Senior Research Fellow, South Asia Studies at The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC. Her art has been displayed in several cities in India and abroad; her works have been featured at the China Art Museum in Shanghai and are in the permanent collection at the Museum of Sacred Art, Belgium. (IANS)

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