Kota Neelima talks Art and ‘The Manifest Absence’ exhibition

Sparking conversation relevant to modern India and internationally, Indian artist Kota Neelima’s exhibition ‘The Manifest Absence’ comes to London.


"I want to locate my work in the creative universe, in which London plays a central role.”

Indian artist, author and activist, Kota Neelima brings her 8th solo exhibition, ‘The Manifest Absence’, to London’s Nehru Centre.

Kota Neelima is an author as well as a respected editor and political commentator.

However, she is an equally masterful painter, taking inspiration from Indian spirituality and philosophical thought. Here, she examines them further to address questions of existence and creation or scepticism and doubt.

When doing so, her impressionist-abstract work first begins with extensive research of texts. Kota Neelima’s detailed knowledge of the Upanishads notably compliments this in addition to her authorial understanding of contemporary India.

After all, Kota Neelima’s written work involves speaking out on India’s gender, political, rural issues. Neelima’s latest book, Widows of Vidharbha Making of Shadows, demonstrates the challenges facing women after farmer suicides. Elsewhere, she tries to address other inequalities, for example, distinguishing the democratic deficit.

Indeed, Kota Neelima revises her depiction of nature’s symbols like trees, sky, moon and bird according to the concepts of each exhibition. Nevertheless, they still remain accessible to art aficionados and newcomers alike.

It’s exciting to see her work in London where it may hopefully reach new audiences. Plus, as she points out “as an artist and an author, I want to locate my work in the creative universe, in which London plays a central role.”

DESIblitz talks to Kota Neelima about this new exhibition, ‘The Manifest Absence’ as well as the ideas and processes behind her art.


What’s the meaning behind the name of the exhibition?

The title of my 8th solo exhibition, on at the Nehru Centre, London, is ‘The Manifest Absence’.

The presence is materialistic and something that the world seeks; every human life is only a temporary presence.

On the other hand, the absence is permanent and eternal. Every human life is also the manifestation of this absence, and that is the meaning of the title of the exhibition, ‘The Manifest Absence’.

What do you try to evoke in the viewer and why?

Essentially, all communication is individual. Art is understood differently by different people, and this understanding cannot be generalised. For instance, what may be considered beautiful by some may appear to be meaningless to others.

My art has always been based on the Upanishads, and I leave it to the infinite wisdom of the people to perceive it in any way they want to.

What’s your artistic and philosophical thought process?

My creative journey begins by researching questions of philosophy, which deal with the individual and the universe.

Every thinking human being has wondered about his or her position in the universe, and only philosophy answers such questions to some degree to satisfaction.

My journey for every painting begins with reading the philosophical texts on the topic on which I want to paint. Once I have distilled the thought that I want to represent in my art, I sketch with charcoal on paper. Among several sketches, I select one to finally turn it into a painting.


What makes a good piece of art?

Art is the expression of the inner self. Any art that connects to the soul of strangers is a great piece of art.

You’re also an author. Do you prefer painting or writing?

Both are equally important. I paint what I cannot write, I write what I cannot paint.

As a social activist and creative, what are your aims?

Through my books, I seek to convey the stories of people whose lives are lost in the darkness of poverty and despair. The hope that the poor find in spirituality inspires my art.

As a social activist, I seek change for the better, but I am also wary of false promises made for generations. The objectives of humanity today can no longer be personal and selfish, they must necessarily be universal to be able to succeed and sustain.

Is humanity becoming increasingly disconnected from nature?

Yes, it is. Human beings’ obsessions have overwhelmed the planet and its rhythms. Instead of rain, we have floods, and instead of summers, we have heat waves.

I would like to know which technology invented by human beings can bring back the rain forests or reverse the extinction of species? If not, then the injustice human beings have done to nature is unforgivable.

To now speak about the environment, and raise slogans against plastic, etc, is too little too late. There is a global effort required to save Earth and the time for small measures is past.

Where do you see the place of spirituality in the modern world?

The world outside the individual will only make sense when the world within is at peace. Such a peace cannot come through acquisition or crowding one’s life with presence of things, people, etc.

Money cannot buy everything, and even to enjoy what money can buy, you need inner serenity.

That can only come from spirituality and an awareness of one’s real identity.

What advice would you give to other female creatives?

I do not differentiate between male and female artists. My hope is that all artists express themselves honestly and fearlessly, and then art can make this world a better place to live.


It’s wonderful to see the Indian artist and activist, Kota Neelima bring her solo exhibition, ‘The Manifest Absence’, to London.

While she confronts the questions pertinent to modern India, Kota Neelima’s work is universally relevant. Her focus on nature and humanity is crucial for all of us to consider.

In fact, her use of art as a tool to put a spotlight on socio-political issues does more to make these accessible to all backgrounds.

Of course, individuals interpret art in their own way. Yet, rather than mystifying environmental jargon, Kota Neelima aids in highlighting the importance of preserving nature’s beauty.

DESIblitz is intrigued to see how Kota Neelima continues to do explore nature, spirituality and humanity in her art and books. But, we’re especially looking forward to seeing how she does so nationally in India and globally.

Kota Neelima’s exhibition, ‘The Manifest Absence’ is open from 10th September until 14th September 2018.

An English and French graduate, Daljinder likes travelling, wandering around museums with headphones and getting over-invested in a TV show. She loves Rupi Kaur’s poem: “If you were born with the weakness to fall you were born with the strength to rise."