The world of T K Padmini  
- Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur 

October 10, 2008 
An exhibition of paintings and drawings of T K Padmini by Kerala Lalita Kala Academy was inaugurated by its deputy chair person, Savithri Rajeevan at Durbar Hall Art Centre, Ernakulam.  The just concluded exhibition showcased the world of late T K Padmini, a talented artist whose life was nipped in the bud (1940-69).  
Here is a world inhabited by rural folk that tell of human tales rooted in their innocent yet complex nature. Drawn in dark hues, they enliven the rural stretch of Kerala of the mid 20th century. Men and women are seen against familiar landmarks of a village: its foliage, hills and valleys, fields and ponds, shrines and temples. Labourers are at work or they relax under shady trees. Hindus and Muslims of her village live here evoking nostalgia for a lost ethos. They are the sketches of an artist who loved them.  
Primarily, it is a kaleidoscope of the feminine in rural Kerala, perceived by a woman artist. Padmini explores a woman's sensibilities. Women live here in harmony with nature. They are part of a planet where trees, birds, and animals cohabit. They work, relax, and dream. There is a celebration of the female body in different postures with a marked intensity of expression. With minimalism, the women in their postures suggest a strong desire for freedom, even sexual freedom. Theirs are the stories of relationships as well. Innocent girl and boy go to school together; girl children enjoy games; maidens dream of love and sex. Bonding runs as an underlying theme in the innumerable sketches of women.  

Padmini's pictorial art uncovers a sombre world drawn in brooding hues. The artist takes us to the darker side. Love and relationships are cast in an aura of mystery. Sexuality, loneliness, and protest light up her figures. Sexual joys enrapture both the male and the female, a feature of typical Indian aesthetics rooted in our traditional art. Does friendship between women connote a physical attraction? A couple stand under the Tree of Life.  And here is a family where the woman is half-hidden behind her man who carries her child.  Yet another picture shows a woman watching her man carrying her child on his shoulders with glee as she stands carefree. Is it a protest against the social order that makes a woman a beast of burden within domestic walls?  Women proud of motherhood and untroubled girl children take over Padmini's art world. Here, under a tree sit a couple, their ways parting in opposite directions. The theme of separation is as old as human love and life. In contrast, an old woman keeps vigil over her dying companion. Death and loneliness too is part of life. Melancholy overlaps her works. The artist unfolds the other dimension of her perceived object. There is a marked shift from sense experiences to unifying ideas, from the mutable aspect to an ever-present situation. 
The backdrop of her paintings and sketches are unique. Night is a persistent setting to her cast, which lends depth, poetry, and secrecy. The back ground in dark hues is so over powering that they intrude into the foreground, suggesting inscrutability as a phenomenon of life. Time zone does not exist here. Death makes his presence felt. One question that lingers in our mind is why these shades of black and grey? Is it the influence of kalamezhuthu, ritualistic designs associated with the worship of snakes and Mother Goddess in Kerala? 

Expressionism gives touches to her artscape. More than form, the intensity of expressions radiate from curves and lines, which are tell-tale marks. Subtle subversions in rural ethos make them symbols of humanity. Ease, spontaneity and commitment are the salient features of her art. 
T K Padmini is a milestone in the history of modern pictorial art of Kerala. At a time when feminism was unheard of, that Padmini posed feminist questions from a rural background is a surprise. She spent her early years in a village near Ponnani in Kerala. Artist Namboodiri took her under his wing recognizing her innate talent. Later she joined the Madras School of Fine Arts and appreciation came seeking her. Married to artist Damodaran, she worked as a teacher. And after a brief period of marital bliss, she died in childbirth.  

Her last painting of a girl flying a kite, painted in bright red and deep blue against sea and sky speaks volumes of the hopes and joys that budded in the heart and mind of the pregnant mother. Perhaps it was the beginning of another phase. Had she lived, the pictorial world of Kerala would have been richer. Did the gods feel jealous?! 

Padma Jayaraj is a freelance journalist and a regular contributor to