An incomplete portrait, which trails off beyond a point, leaving a faint mark where once was the mouth; short, translucent foot prints, climb up the figure’s neck. Chennai-based artist Rohini Mani’s self portrait hints at her preoccupation with the concept of the rediscovery of self. Her more recent Dark is Beautiful series is a subset of the same, and specifically deals with the more topical theme of colourism.
Nearing 40, Rohini, has always been exposed to portraits and still life during her formative years as an artist, at Chennai’s Government College of Fine Arts and Hyderabad Central University. This explains her expertise in the genre — her interest, however, comes from the fact that portraiture as a medium, helps her delve deep into her subject matter.
The genre has set her on a journey to rediscover herself. Her series of 50-odd works, titled ‘Dark is Beautiful’, therefore, comprises self portraits, line drawings and abstract representations of an inward reflection — of a person who has been discriminated against, on the basis of her skin colour from a very young age.
“Even as a school kid, I have been asked to step back from standing in the front multiple times. But back then, I didn’t know why it was happening. However, the questions remained strong in my mind,” reminisces Rohini, who also does illustrations.
The artist has illustrated TM Krishna’s latest book, Sebastian and Sons, and has designed the book cover for Perumal Murugan’s Amma.
“People seem to have a mental block about those with dark complexion. Their achievements or accolades almost become invalid,” she continues. Media’s representation of people with a dark complexion, is another aspect that Rohini tries to address.
“I have never seen a woman who looks like myself, in any of the big hoardings that are seen while one travels. This has left a question mark in my mind since long,” says Rohini. More than the output, what she holds dear in her self portraits is the opportunity it provides to reconcile with herself.
While reflecting on her own portraits, Rohini discovers the beauty in her own self, which changes at every glance. “It’s almost like enjoying a landscape,” says the artist who likes to experiment with the medium of charcoal. The dichotomy of black and white is something that interests her. “Black and white are two extremes, and I love to play within the grade.”
To get in touch with the artist regarding the Dark is Beautiful series, visit her website, www.rohinimanicharcoal. com