They range in height from 12 inches to 12 feet. Their adornments change depending on the nation in which they are being displayed — a gajra or garland for an Indian exhibition, a traditional African headdress for one on that continent. The textures, colours and mediums are constantly changing as well.
What remains a constant is the appeal of Vishakhapatnam-based artist Ravinder Reddy’s now-signature works: His sculptures of women’s heads.
Next month, these heads will adorn yet another international Indian contemporary art show, at the prestigious Arken Museum of Modern Art near Copenhagen in Denmark. Featuring the works of 35 artists from around the world, it is Reddy’s set of four women’s heads that will be one of the two highlights of the exhibition, the other being New Delhi-based Rashmi Kaleka’s Chhota Paisa, says Stine Høholt, chief curator of the exhibition.
Reddy, 56, has been making these large-eyed, voluptuous, gold, red and blue heads since 1982. They have been featured in several international exhibitions, art fairs and biennales, including the Paris-Delhi-Bombay show at Centre Pompidou in Paris (2011), the Shanghai Art Fair in China (2010), ARCOmadrid art show in Spain (2009) and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pennsylvania (2001).
“Reddy’s heads have global appeal because they are timeless, in the sense that they are very contemporary but also deeply connected with the ancient iconography of Indian art,” says Peter Nagy, director of gallery Nature Morte in New Delhi. “They have become a successful phenomenon that every international show seeks to acquire.”
Reddy began experimenting with Indian iconography in 1982, while pursuing a Master’s degree in fine art at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.
“While most of my classmates were looking at western art for inspiration, I started looking at Indian tribal art and sculpture,” says Reddy. “There is so much to learn from Indian art that I didn’t feel the need to look anywhere else.”
While his works have been labelled ‘Typically Indian’, it’s a label Reddy readily embraces, saying, “Why not? Why not typically Indian? What is wrong with that? Every culture has its own ethos. I am not afraid of acknowledging my cultural ethos.”
So, does Reddy risk falling into the trap of repeating himself in his creations? “Maybe,” says art writer and critic Ina Puri. “But far more significant is the fact that Reddy continues to hold art lovers in thrall with his Amazonian women, giving us reason to be proud of him and his achievements.”