South Indian artist Ratheesh T’s practice of looking centers objects, spaces, and people, including his family in his hometown of Kilimanoor, a small town in Trivandrum, Kerala. Here we begin to peel away the layers of a “generative objective knowledge” of a place that forms the core of his work. Many of his paintings show family members and depict land, neighborhoods, and stories that have unfolded within a forty-mile radius of Kilimanoor. In effect, his paintings reveal the lives of his people and the place of his birth. However, Man and Doll (careless objects 2), a 2023 painting, turns Ratheesh T’s gaze inward. The painting shows a stuffed Mickey Mouse doll laid on what appears to be a leather couch, leaning to one side as if alert and at rest at the same time. As much as we stare at this Mickey, it stares back at us, with a consciousness of its own. Surrounding the doll is a green fabric strewn on the surface of the couch, and across from it lies a pair of Jockey boxer shorts. According to the artist, the painting functions as a kind of
still life in which he observes a “careless object.” In his parlance, the careless object is something which, though mundane, can provide both the artist and the viewer with various possibilities. It is this “careless object” that offers some kind of beauty. The painting is included in his 2023 solo exhibition at Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke in Bombay.
Trained at the Trivandrum College of Fine Arts, Ratheesh T’s focus on forms of looking is reminiscent of philosopher Sundar Sarukkai’s question: “Can experience really be materialised, commodifed and transferred without taking the subject of experience into account?”1 The artist’s “careless objects” cannot be divorced from “the subject of experience.” Thus, in addition to a view of art that extends to the social fabric of his community—which is consistent with the spirit of his mentors in the leftist Indian Radical Painters’ and Sculptors’ Association (1986–89)—what might at frst glance appear “mundane” in Ratheesh T’s work can actually point towards deeper embodied knowledge, if not fundamental experience. This becomes clear in this oral history account by Ratheesh T, which is a revised and edited version of an interview conducted by curator Srinivas Aditya Mopidevi.