In our discussion, Sosa Joseph emphasised the struggle that she has with the process of painting. ‘It doesn’t come easy’ she repeats several times, while simultaneously reiterating her longstanding commitment to it. ‘I was always interested in painting, not graphics, or sculpture’ she insists. And when I try to draw her out on the meaning of the images in her works, she brings the conversation back to the medium, preferring she says, to paint than to comment. She explains that her imagery, which from the works in the studio includes, a Pieta like figure of a women holding the body of her dead son, a mad patriarch, a traffic accident, a poem by Bertolt Brecht about infanticide, and a rural scene with cricket and ducks, arises out of the colours and the forms of the paint, which she physically moulds on the canvas like clay, or Expressionist plasticine.
These emergent narratives are enmeshed in an abstract language of brushstrokes, colours, forms, dark and light. The struggle to paint is evidenced in the clumsy elegance of her mark-making, which is solid but provisional, and in the successive layers of earlier paintings, which have been erased beneath the final version that gets shown in the gallery. What comes out, she says, are the images that get stuck in my head. From literature, from newspaper cuttings, and from her immediate surroundings. Returning to Kerala after completing a post graduate diploma in painting from Baroda, she was able to draw on a rich seam of visual imagery, including a stock of pictorial references from her childhood growing up as the daughter of a Syrian Christian mother and a Marxist father.
Sosa Joseph came of age in the late 1990s when key figures of the Indian art world began to experiment with new media such as video and installation. Nevertheless, a tradition of figurative painting in the country from this earlier cohort provided an important context and resource. Looming large is the figure of Bhupen Khakhar, a painter who is celebrated both in India and internationally, including through major retrospectives in some of the world’s top museums. In our conversation Sosa spoke of her early fascination with Bhupen’s work encountered through reproductions, and she describes her father’s shock at this artist’s queer transgressions. This conversation reminded me of the way that transgressive elements in Bhupen’s paintings, exist but get folded into a larger ‘weltanschauung,’ part of the painting’s composition, similar, perhaps, to how the shocking or disturbing elements in Sosa’s own paintings are integrated into what she describes as a harmony on the canvas.
— Grant Watson
She explains that her imagery, which from the works in the studio includes, a Pieta like figure of a women holding the body of her dead son, a mad patriarch, a traffic accident, a poem by Bertolt Brecht about infanticide, and a rural scene with cricket and ducks, arises out of the colours and the forms of the paint, which she physically moulds on the canvas like clay, or Expressionist plasticine.
Grant Watson is an independent curator based in London. He holds a PhD in Visual Cultures from Goldsmiths College, London. He was Senior Curator at Iniva, London (2010-14), and Curator at MuHKA, Antwerp (2006-10), where he presented the large-scale exhibition “Santhal Family: Positions Around an Indian Sculpture" (2008), which addressed left politics and modernism in India. He was Visiting Curator for documenta 12 in Kassel in 2007, where he researched the participation of contemporary Indian artists in the exhibition. Recent activities include 'bauhaus imaginista' a 3-year research project exploring the transnational character and reception of the Bauhaus with exhibitions and discursive events taking place in Asia, Latin America, Europe and the USA.