Shanthamani Muddaiah’s practice is intimately linked to the physicality of the materials she employs. Charcoal, a material she frequently uses in sculptures and installations, is fragile against force but signifies to the artist a connection to all that is primordial; the scorched body carrying within its layers traces of thousands of years of ecological and civilisational history. The dark and porous carbon surface imbibes everything around and evokes death as well as reconstitution and renewal.
Muddaiah’s Backbone (2014) is a sculptural installation in the shape of a large spinal column. To the artist, the backbone is a metaphor for the many centripetal forces that hold civilisations together, from rivers to ideologies. Made of cinder, the combusted remains of coal, the 90-foot-long installation lies curled on the ground like a giant sea serpent, prompting questions about its origin. Though stronger and more robust than charcoal, cinder is equally evocative. As the artist points out, it is neither ash nor mineral; a material drained of all vitality which she has recast into a sculpture.
In its fragmented state, Backbone evokes an archeological site littered with skeletal remains that have suddenly emerged out of the ground. The anonymous fossil dramatically fissures the landscape, goading viewers to re-examine the site they stand on: A coastline littered with the relics of a rich history shaped by exchanges across water.