Invisible made visible -Shailaja Tripathi,THE HINDU

Artist Devika Sundar’s medical condition finds a multi-layered rendition in her first solo

History has seen how some of the most common works of art had a tragic back story to them. Pain and trauma ignite the creative mind. Artist Devika Sundar knows how. Her first solo “Essentially Normal Studies” at Gallery Sumukha, after all is, a body of work, inspired by her health condition – fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndrome. The various MRI scans and X-Rays of her different body parts, done over a period of 8 years, have made their way to her current series of works, that she has layered with painting, drawing, sound and video.

Invisible made visible

The exhibition comprises 30 works including paintings, drawings, silkscreen prints, moving image videos and lightbox installations. The young artist says that the exhibition doesn’t harp on sympathy, but instead intends to trigger a dialogue around the conflict between invisibility and physicality. “I underwent several check-ups, scans, x-rays for 8 years but nothing would ever show up. The doctors wouldn’t be able to see any kind of disability and yet pain had taken a toll on my life. It’s interesting to see how we are conditioned to see physicality. The invisible pain isn’t acknowledged. I am not trying to prove pain but the idea is to how do I take a medical frame of a scan and challenge the medical community to talk about these issues,” says Devika, a contemporary art graduate from the Srishti Institute of Art Design and Technology.

Invisible made visible

Not just medical community, Devika’s works looks at attitudes in general towards a condition like this. While researching she came across an online community of people “But You Don’t Look Sick” facing similar health condition. She uses this phrase in her works along with other text comprising clinical language on the reports – name , gender, date. In fact, the title “Essentially Normal Studies” has also been derived from there. The series came into being during her semester thesis in her university in New York. “There was a discussion around failure and success. I realised I was failed by the system, failed by the invisibility of a health condition. I knew I am going to take the starting point of a scan. I started observing the textual and clinical terms and the middle image and asked what can I do with this? So I scanned my scans, printed them out and started putting them in my journal. Then I would take my white pen and create lines overlaying the original.”

Invisible made visible

By adding text, drawing, colours and material, Devika managed to render them several layers. Then there are lightboxes created through an elaborate process. Before this body of work, Devika says her style was realistic. “But at the same time, it was imagined response to my life surroundings. After this health issue, I saw a certain shift. I was going through the conflict of being in the meditative process of making art and being in this pain alongside. I couldn’t draw for a long time as my hand would hurt so I started doing assemblages and adding lots of layers to my work.” Recently, Devika also participated in the 2nd International Conference on Myofascial Pain Syndrome and Fibromyalgia Syndrome, a conference organized by the Indian MYOPAIN Society, a chapter of the International Myopain Society.

The artist also feels that from a personal narrative, it translated into a collective one as she realised there are several people suffering from similar conditions and could relate to it. “As I started researching, I could give it a larger perspective.”

(The exhibition is on till November 10, Gallery Sumukha, Wilson Garden)

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