'I discovered my mortality'

Prabhadevi artist discusses surrender to death with a 3D replica of her heart disintegrating in water; becomes first non-local in 64 years to win prestigious Australian art prize

A Disntegration heart has won Prabhadevi-based artist, Yardena Kurulkar the prestigious Blake Prize for Religious Art at Sydney last week. The 45-year-old’s win is special because this is the first time in the prize’s 64-year-old history that a non-Australian had won it.

Kenosis, Yardena Kurulkar’s prize-winning work
Kenosis, Yardena Kurulkar’s prize-winning work 

The work that won Kurulkar a prize of 35,000 Australian dollars is called Kenosis, and included a series of photographs. Kenosis, in Christian theology, refers to the self-emptying of individual will and to be receptive to God’s divine will. This the artist did by capturing images of a 3D terracotta replica of her own heart, disintegrating in water over time.

The artist
The artist 

To create the replica, she got a cardiac CT scan done at a diagnostic centre, made 3D prints of the organ and finally fashioned it into its terracotta avatar. “I took photographs of the heart’s disintegration over a few weeks. They speak of the act of surrender to the inevitability of the end. I presented them as part of a cycle of continuous regeneration, discovering my own mortality and contemplating our collective fear of death,” she said from her Prabhadevi studio.

This is not Kurulkar’s first brush with the Blake Prize. She was a runner-up last year for this award for depicting art in spirituality and religion. This time around, she beat 600 contestants from around the world.

For the Australian media, that the Prize, which was established to celebrate religious diversity, was won a non-Australian is big news. “The winners of the 2016 Blake Prize for Religious Art have been announced, and they are as diverse as the Western Sydney suburb that’s hosting the exhibition,” said Australia’s news portal, abc.net. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that given that nobody had heard of the Blake 2016 winner, it is always such a lucky dip. “The only thing you can be sure of is that something religious like a crucifix or an icon, isn’t going to win,” art critic John McDonald, was quoted saying.

While Kurulkar’s art may be termed ‘morbid’ by some, the self-assured artist says, “I create art to express my thoughts to myself. How the world interprets it has nothing to do with me. At the end of one cycle of time, they say, we experience Kenosis, an emptying. Things lose meaning, they erode. That’s the topic I was discussing.”

Kenosis will be kept on display at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre in Sydney until April 24 before it tours galleries across Australia.

Named after poet and painter William Blake
A Jesuit priest and a Jewish lawyer established the Blake Prize in 1951 as an open art prize that challenges artists to engage in conversations around religion and spirituality. The Blake Prize takes its name from 18th century English poet and painter, William Blake. The entries are not restricted to any faith or any artistic style, but must have religious or spiritual integrity. Over the years, the award became known for controversy, having drawn much criticism for its depiction of religious figures. The Blake Prize has three prize categories, The Blake Prize, The Blake Emerging Artist and The Blake Established Artist Residency. This prize challenges artists to investigate ideas, issues and engage audiences in conversations surrounding spiritual thought and religion in contemporary art.

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