Durga Gawde molds metal and leads a dialogue on gender fluidity.
In a freewheeling conversation with Durga Gawde, we understand that learning is interest driven, and how existentialism fuels their pursuit.
A trained sculptor at Rhode Island School of Design, they mould metal into installations that evoke an immersive emotion. Durga chose this medium of self expression on realising unparalleled joy of working with their hands and making it happen. “Throughout the history of sculpting, there has been an application of repurposed material.” A subtle resistance against the unquestioned status quo, they chose to bend industrial material into organic curves, a symbol of man’s selfish intervention bent into submission against nature’s eternal forces. It is pleasantly ironic, having bothersome straight lines made of metal shaped to the whims and fancies of free thoughts, taking a wild leap into space, representing the spurt of joy and self actualisation.
Durga feels deeply, and allows all experiences to seep through. They see and listen, speak and hum along, allow all vibrations to flow through them. While school helped them to be conceptually proficient, it is this compulsive emotional need that helps them create. Their art is deeply personal, and is relevant in that given moment in time. Despite the involvement of technical processes and a set methodology, they let their individual self discovery take over, and that shapes the sculpture.
“Humans struggle to understand the nature of resilience,” they add. A student of Marine Biology, they witnessed the term in its raw form, how sea creatures survived though insurmountable odds with vast depths engulfing them, forever threatening to squeeze them out of existence. Human Minds face a heavier burden, suffering with self doubt and peer pressure. Being resilient is much more than conquering death, it is a continuous evolution through everything that limits our growth.
They discovered gender fluidity through this introspection at a personal level. Creation through gender expression continues to inspire them. “Rigidity around genders is a social construct. This world is run on people’s insecurities.” Release from these perceived confinements is what Durga’s art represents.
They teach, and choose to apply self-exploration instead of explicitly guiding their students along a predetermined path. Having taught students across age groups at Rhode Island School of Design and ISDI Parsons (Mumbai), they encourage a dialogue and prompt curiosity, nudging all to find their own answers while ensuring technical accuracy. Their students are asked to generate multiple ideas around a concept, and are pushed further to be sure of what they choose the answer to be. Durga does not assume the role of an authority in their classroom, and launches an investigation into subjects at hand. “I am a learner who likes to learn with everyone.”
Their big hairy audacious goal is to start a University constructed around the idea of learning through making. “We have an education system that does not question the teacher, and students are merely expected to follow.” Durga highlights how this suppression results in outburst of chaos, lending India its unique identity on the streets. “This country is naturally creative in chaos,” they cheerfully point out as we discuss how vegetable vendors display their wares, and how delightful is a balloon seller’s arrangement of something that is a part of his daily life. Our true selves are thus hidden away in plain sight and peek through from these subtle displays, for there is fear of certain ideas being perceived as outrageous. “We have immense potential to express and to create, it is essential to tap into it without fear.”
Durga drives a conversation on what makes us what we are. “If you are not curious, you are not evolving. If you are not growing in spirit and thought, then you are not growing. A society can evolve through a genderless society. Differences are not bad, they become bad when someone tells you that a difference is bad. Are you being a good human being at the end of the day?” Their keen senses lead them to create, and their work follows their instincts.
There is stark clarity in what they have to say, and an underlying pattern of thoughts that drive their art and perspective, that entwines their personal and professional life. Durga manifests beliefs and perceived contrasts into every creation, and that helps us understand them.
Written by Sushrut Munje
Photographed by Blake D'Silva