Delhi-born, Sydney-based artist, Kirtika Kain examines how oppressive social hierarchies and power structures have shaped her identity as a woman born into the Untouchable or Dalit caste within India. Through diverse alchemical and experimental printmaking processes, Kain explores the imprint of her ancestral memory, social stratification, and the archaic system that denigrates the Untouchables to subhuman status. Kain incorporates a myriad of humble materials that relate to themes of valuation, corporeality, ritual and the manual labour of the lower classes including iron filings, brooms, religious twine, wax, vermillion and bitumen.
Created during her Residency at British School at Rome, Britain’s leading humanities research institute abroad and one of the most prestigious foreign academies in the Italian capital, foglio II (2019) is informed by Kain’s ongoing research into ancient and modern societal codes and hierarchical structures. The despotic philosophy of the traditional caste system is contained in the Manusmriti, a sacred Hindu text dating from the 2nd century BCE. Kain has transcribed part of this sacred Hindu law upon raw copper, before etching the metal in ferric acid, oxidising it and applying gold leaf and Italian pigments beneath a thin layer of beeswax. Kain seeks to materially dissolve these discriminatory rules and transform these everyday materials into aesthetic object of value; thus, re-defining and re-imagining a personal and collective narrative.