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Material Queen

Philosophy,psychology and science — Latika Katt believes those are the three essentials of a sculpture,with the sculptor needing to go “within oneself” to create art out of stone,metal and earth.

Written by Parul | Published: March 22, 2012 2:41 am

Medium is the message in renowned sculptor Latika Katt’s works

Philosophy,psychology and science — Latika Katt believes those are the three essentials of a sculpture,with the sculptor needing to go “within oneself” to create art out of stone,metal and earth. As the marble dust fills the air and the hammer starts to chisel the piece of stone,Katt’s eyes light up at the sight as work begins at the 10-day sculpture camp at the Chandigarh Museum. Organised by the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi,the workshop will have Katt working closely with nine sculptors from the city. She hopes that the interaction will go beyond technical exchanges and know-how.

For someone who is making the tallest bronze sculptures in the country and still works with cow dung on the ghats of Varanasi,the pictorial and visual quality of a sculpture is vital to her. She creates without inhibitions and dares to defy convention to create art with a soul.

It hasn’t been an easy journey for the 60-something Katt,as sculpture was considered a ‘man’s domain’. The sculptor admits she worked “four times harder” than her classmates at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and later at the Baroda College of Art to prove she could do it. “Probably,being one of the five girls among 51 boys at the Doon School helped me to face challenges,handle situations and setbacks without fear and with confidence,” reminisces Katt.

Stone carving and metal casting,she agrees,is both physically and mentally taxing,as she talks about working with her favourite medium,bronze,and the many years she has spent studying experimental sculpture in the medium,both in India and abroad. “Close to my heart are two works in bronze — a 20-feet tall Indira Gandhi being done for the city of Hyderabad and one of Nehru in the same size,which was established in the 20th year of Independence at Jawahar Bhawan in New Delhi,” says she. Casting in bronze is completely different from working in stone,shares Katt,as one starts from scratch,unlike stone,where there is a form and shape to work on. “Once you have chalked out the concept and content,it’s hard labour,” says Katt.

Talking about content,the city of Varanasi,ghats,water,trees,forests and jungles,have been a constant source of inspiration for Katt,who credits her father,a botanist,for helping her observe nature closely. Living in Varanasi and sketching on the ghats meant being closer to death and life. It has given Katt the belief that nothing is permanent. “There is life after death,so we have to make every moment meaningful,” says Katt,adding that many of her works have been inspired by this philosophy.

In the 1970s,Katt got great recognition for a body of experimental work made from cow dung. The medium,she says,was discovered out of desperation. “I had joined Baroda College of Art when my father passed away. I did not have money,so I sold everything. It was when I was sitting under a tree that I saw a hut with beautifully textured cow dung. I also collected some cow dung and made huge reliefs,” recalls Katt,who continues to work with ceramics,marble,metal,bronze and cow dung. For now,it’s an art centre in Varanasi,which Katt has designed herself,that’s consuming the artist’s time and energy. “It should open this winter and I hope to make it a centre where the girl child will be supported through sculpture,” says Katt.

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