Not afraid to use my art as a weapon: Meet Ma Mukilan, the artist whose 'communal' paintings at Loyola College rubbed the right wing the wrong way

The artist, Ma Mukilan has been painting for many years now and has managed to ruffle some feathers in the past too with his paintings criticising big corporates
The display had evoked an angry response from right-wingers
The display had evoked an angry response from right-wingers

Almost as soon as people started criticising the art exhibition at Loyola College's Veethi Virudhu Vizha, the institute put out an apology. Yet, the predominantly right-wing opposers are demanding the artist's arrest and are accusing the college of being anti-Hindu. So far though, Loyola is taking all the hate but the artist who was responsible for every one of the 'offensive' pieces of art, Ma Mukilan is not intimidated by the harsh comments he's been receiving. In fact, he says he expected some people to get angry because his work is "directed against the right wing" but didn't imagine it would get out of hand this much.

Sterlite Protest Painting
Sterlite Protest Painting

"The first painting was on the Sterlite plant and the shooting that happened at Thoothukudi. The plant was reopened while the soil was still wet with the blood of the 13 people who died that day. That is what made me wonder, who is this government even for?" he told Edex. He said that feeling like this about the issue is what pushed him to express it through art, "It needed to be said. Only that sort of expression can be the language of art."

Mukilan, who is an Assistant Professor of Art at a city-based college, has been an artist all his life but began to paint on critical social issues about ten years ago. He has run into trouble several times in this last decade — but none has blown up as much as the Loyola issue. "I use my art to talk about communalism and the crimes of the corporations, about globalisation and other issues that affect the people. I showcase my opposition to the public, so I have run into small problems in the past," he said. 

Mukilan was invited to present his work at the Veethi Virudhu Vizha.In his own words, the artist says that the Vizha is a platform for artists to exercise their right to expression. Mukilan also pointed out that for artists like him almost all the halls in the city are closed, "People like those who belong to the BJP only appreciate the art that has a nice scenery like mountains and a lake with lotuses floating in it. This sort of art will find its way to the Lalit Kala Akademi and the Ambassador Pallava. But if I make a painting criticising a corporate that is out to destroy those very mountains and lakes, then I get attacked."  

CIting the examples of the murders of Kalburgi, Dabholkar and Gauri Lankesh, Mukilan said that people these days were being murdered just for having an opinion. "People just don't know how to fight words with words. I want to question these people and ask them how they harbour this sort of communalism. And what sort of nature do they possess that allows them to sell their country to the corporates," he said. 

Loyola College Art Exhibition Painting
Loyola College Art Exhibition Painting

Mukilan says he has no plans to hide his art from people. He says seeing his art hanging on the wall of a villa or an apartment, unseen and uncared for, is like seeing his artwork in a coffin. "I have understood now, after this controversy how far my art can reach. This is so common in the western world, to create such art. Here, the people are not angry that Asifa was raped in a temple and that her perpetrators are still not caught. But they get angry because I paint a picture about the injustice that was meted out to the girl," the 40-year-old artist said.

So far though, Mukilan said he hasn't received any direct threats but he has been receiving a ton of comments online. He also mentions that most of the comments are actually very supportive. But I ask him if there is any fear at all — knowing how extremist groups function these days, "I have no fear. When people committing atrocities do it so openly. Why should I be afraid of openly opposing such atrocities? In fact, this is only making me angrier."

At the end of this interview, I ask him if he's okay with me mentioning his name or if he wants to give his comments anonymously. To this he says, "Please do mention my name. I'm Mukilan, son of a farmer. I use my art as a weapon when my land or my people are threatened in any way and I fear no one." 

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