Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. When an artist captures his inference of what’s beautiful, it can truly transform the meaning of the word. The artists thus have a potential to give all our emotions deeper and magical meanings. Arka Patra’s mystical and surreal mind often creates concepts that poke the darker realm of our experiences. His latest work, ‘Teenage Scars’ with model, Amal Pal, captivates us with the hauntingly beautiful shade of scarred skin. This gender fluid piece of fine art breaks the bondage of traditional beauty by adorning are our ‘flawed’ acne.
We had the pleasure of talking to the very talented Arka Patra, who was kind enough to break it down for us:
What does the word ‘beauty’ mean to you?
There is a lot of talk about beauty standards in contemporary culture. It is always put into boxes of fair skinned or brown skinned or a certain kind of hair or eye color. We need to acknowledge the fact that for a lot of south-east Asians beauty is associated with fairer skin and long straight hair probably because these features are less than common in the region . At the same time western view of the southeast Asians are almost always represented in a particular shade of brown that feeds into their sensibilities, like an exotic oriental idea. And then there is gender and how certain features are preferable in a gender specific system. I prefer to see beauty outside of these boxes. Like it has been seen for ages in our cultural history. Poems and songs were composed in this land about the beauty of sri Krishna, Kali ,Saraswati and Lakshmi among others who have had different features and attributes and yet beautiful.
When it comes to my work, I see beauty in that rare moment where magic transpires; it can be a stare, a certain gesture of the hand or a sudden light that falls on the subject. We as artists try to capture that, and freeze it so that we can go back to it time and again and feel the visual sensation. It is a deeply personal moment, almost spiritual in nature.
What qualifies as a good piece of art for you?
A good piece of art should have the ability to move you. It is like magic, when you realise what the artist tried to say through the piece and when you can relate to the piece with your own personal experience and therefore become a part of it.
What are your thoughts with regards to the negative comments you’ve received for the ‘Teenage Scars’ series?
Aman, the model was always concerned of what people would think about his body and was extremely insecure about his skin which was scared with acne. He was undergoing treatment for it and did not even want to meet me before the acne was gone. So I made it a point to shoot him with the acne and create something beautiful with it. How oysters create pearls from their scars, I embellished his acne with pearls. The visuals were intended for people to sit up and notice. And I don’t think there were a lot of negative comments to the pictures. There were some who were uncomfortable with it, others were concerned about the skin condition. All of which resulted in conversations and understandings. Both Aman and I received overwhelming number from messages of people who relate to the same or other issues relating to insecurities regarding their bodies and skin. So I’m happy.
Do you feel like the narrative of men and their insecurities get enough representation in today’s age?
You see, the society takes great comfort in putting everything into boxes for convenience. We are used to seeing women as vulnerable and soft, qualities that have been associated with femininity. While there are a lot of wonderful strong women who are working to break that construct we still think of an ideal man as someone who can not be vulnerable, and must not show softer emotions. The idea of masculinity comes with its baggage too. Through my body of work I therefore question the gender stereotypes in the society, and our own ideas of gender and sexuality.
In the Instagram age, have we become too obsessed with the idea of ‘perfect’ in every aspect of our lives?
Yes and no. I think it is up to us to define what is perfect. Instagram and other social media platforms are giving voice to anyone who has something to say. What we chose to say is up to us. For the longest time we have been living in bubbles of our surroundings oblivious of the diverse opinions and mindsets that make the world. Social media has brought those voices to the forefront. I see it as tool for democratisation. We can not ignore those voices if we want to make a better world. We need to communicate with everyone and understand each other go beyond conflict of right and wrong.
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