Chennai has witnessed an upsurge of women artists in the last ten years, defining their individual contours in a versatile manner. This is not surprising, considering the strong presence of women artists within the Madras Art Movement from the 1960s, such as Arnawaz Vasudev, T K Padmini, Anila Jacob, Rani Nanjappa, Premlatha Seshadhri and many more.
Of the young crop of emerging women artists, mention must be made of Benitha Perciyal, an alumnus of the Government College of Arts, Chennai. With an artistic genealogy, she has carried forth her artistic task in a befitting manner. She is the niece of the seminal artist A.P. Santhanaraj and A.P. Paneerselvam, both considered as pioneers in painting and printmaking respectively within the Madras Art Movement.
Benitha articulates her concepts through engagement with feminine activities. She works and experiments with various media and it is this engagement with the artistic process that allows her to mark her posture of difference. Benitha is very individualistic in her thinking; and often delves into herself for her creative expressions in painting, mixed media, sculpture and installations. Her works are powerfully created, marked by an avowal of gestural methods such as grinding mehendi or brick, constituting work-intensive bodily involvement; an approach that marks her works as metaphors of `labour` and domesticity. For Benitha, more than the final product, it is the process of creation, which is exhilarating and inspiring. According to her, "I start with an image which soon turns into something. This becomes my starting point. The whole work then becomes a processtearing paper, dipping them in mehendi or colours and pasting them on the surface of the paper".
The process, for Perciyal, is the connectivity, which she interfaces with her body articulating her artistic expressions that conveys concerns of gender, class and social status. Her metaphors are spindles, plough, cowry shells (entertainment of the lower social order), seeds, mehendi and brick powder, and these remain a ubiquity in her works. Her roots in tradition and the associative rituals (taking Holy Communion etc.) mark her approach as postmodern, enabling arrogation of traditional working practices, translating it through contemporary materials such as rice paper.
Benitha`s working process is slow yet calculated. She uses natural pigments from various plants and herbs which she makes it herself. Her engagement with natural materials marks her contribution to contemporarinity as distinct. Her favoured technique is water colours, building up her tones and values lovingly and painstakingly in layers until a desired colour effect is achieved. In the contemporary scenario where speed is the mantra, for an artist to make her works labour intensive shows her passionate dedication towards art production. Nevertheless the saliency of her technique produces effects of nuanced delicacy, evoking poetry by its subtlety of tones. More than an act of creativity her works are emotional expressions that is not only cathartic but also meditative for her. Her concept is simple yet dynamically powerful.
Benita represents her gendered identity of `self` through time tested objects serving as appropriate metaphors as the shuttle of a loom, the embroidery, dining platters with ceramic sculptures of heads [her self portrait] and the collages. The seeds, which is a ubiquity in her works are painted and applied to make collages and gesture towards nurture of life, procreation, fecundity etc. The shuttle is privileged as a feminine craft translating to a web of familial connectivity and transcending to symbolize the interconnectivity between the self and the