The Lungi

The Lungi – R. Gopakumar
The Lungi Series, Medium: Indian Ink on Indian Lungi, Year: 2013, Size: 128 x 195cm
I am honored to have been asked to comment on the art works of Gopakumar. which have been chosen for his newest exhibition in Kerala, India entitled “The Lungi.” In this well focused and highly conceptual exhibition.

The artist Gopakumar was born in a small village of Kerala, India where the term “Lungi” is very familiar. As all living in South Asia are already aware, and phrased in the words of Gopakumar himself: “The Lungi is the most popular casual dress of the peasants and common people of the developing world or the ‘underdeveloped’ world.” The artist has taken a central aspect of the everyday visual appearance of many persons living in India as a metaphor for his art works for this exhibition.

In this way “The Lungi” is takes on new meaning where Gopakumar and all others who wear this traditional garment are seen as fellow voyagers in their daily comforts and discomforts. For the artist it does not matter whether Lungi wearing compatriots are in
agricultural fields, in markets or even at home. In his artworks the artist uses this nearly ubiquitous garment as a powerful visual tool to acknowledge the lives, the work, the ideas, the sweat and the tears of tens of millions of people.

As Lungis can be worn by men and/or women Gopakumar is addressing all people,
not only those in South Asia, but people anywhere in the world where life is based on traditional values and is, quite often, made very difficult due to economic oppression and the exploitation of natural and labor resources by multinational corporations and complicit governments. It is clear that Gopakumar has been strongly influenced by conceptual art, particularly the appropriation of everyday objects as seen in the work of Marcel Duchamp, Tracey Emin and Joseph Kosuth.

In producing the works in this exhibition Gopakumar has used Lungi fabric and the simple media of India ink to create the physical works which viewer will encounter in Kerala. In doing so he has cleverly connected his interest in internationally and transculturally significant ideas and conceptual precedents with the actual garments and products that are a part of traditional life in India. In this the artist has provided us with a powerful means to understand that (through his art) he is speaking to all of us about our lives and how we connect with every other human being on the planet – even if we are perhaps not so aware of the nature of such connectivity.

Gopakumar is asking each viewer to see this work as something that may serve as an instrument to differentiate the soul and body, but this does not apply only to those who wear the Lungi, but to of all of humankind. From “The Lungi” each viewer will take aware his/her own ideas about how this exhibition speaks about politics, about corporate greed, about cultural traditional and, perhaps, about how each of us is responsible for understanding who we are and what it is we stand for both now and in the future.

This is a powerful exhibition wrapped in a metaphor built from the simplest kind of garment connecting us to some very complex considerations. I complete this brief essay by asking myself “Who am I?” and “How DO I relate to those in the world I do not know and may never meet?” and, perhaps most importantly, “What is my equivalent of the Lungi and how well do I understand it?”

Dr. John Antoine Labadie

Professor of Digital Art & Design

Art Department

University of North Carolina

This serial works exhibited in 2014 Critical Juncture (Collateral Projects), Kochi-Muziris Biennale , Kochi, India (exhibition and residency)

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