CORRODE: An Artist's Response to Acid Violence in South Asia

Pallavi Govindnathan

In the 2006 Human Rights Watch World Report for Bangladesh there were no reports of acid attacks mentioned, though over 200 reported cases of acid attacks took place that year. Acid Violence is a profoundly vicious form of crime since the perpetrator(s) intend to disfigure the victims rather than kill them. Acid which is an easily accessible and cheap weapon is thrown at the victims, disfiguring, blinding, and traumatizing them so severely, it takes years for many fortunate ones to recover, and lifetimes for others who are left to live and die in shame. Disputes emerge over land, inheritance, dowry and marriage proposals, leading to greed and jealousy, ending in violence. Treatment is often times impossible, as many attacks take place in remote and rural areas with no access to modern hospitals let alone with critical burn units. There are far too many cases of women in Bangladesh, where their lives are destroyed to deter freedom of choice and independence. I have dedicated the past 4 years to revealing their strength, working alongside with women, men and children, interviewing them, collecting case studies and extensive research which has led to multiple series of paintings called The Acerbic Drips and Reconstruction and a book Corrode.


Corrode explains the detailed stories of the young victims, examines the progression of acid attacks in South Asia and the world. It introduces the impact of religions over women and crimes in societies. My works have focused on these women and the violent crimes that have maimed them. Initially the paintings consisted of dull flesh colors that produced similar scars to shock and disgust the audience, just as society has rejected acid victims within their own communities. The works attempt to find the beauty in the hideous, to look beyond judgment without overlooking the struggle for freedom. As an artist I feel an obligation, especially living in today’s society, to create works within a social and political context. Also, being multi- cultural, and living a nomadic lifestyle, I feel the responsibility of connecting and respecting cultures and traditions while being critical of them. Creating more awareness through cross- cultural artistic interaction best describes the paintings.


Public Culture: An interdisciplinary journal of transnational cultural studies

Reconstructing Corrosion: A Conversation with Pallavi Govindnathan


Poornima Paidipaty: Seeing your two series of paintings, I am reminded that many early splatter artists saw their work as documentation, as traces of the force and the movement that went into producing it. One cannot easily capture movement on canvas, but splatter is what is left behind in the wake of movement. In that sense, your paintings are documentaries in two ways, since your own movements as an artist re-create a disfiguring attack and also the scars it left. I was hoping that you would take us through the steps of this double documentation. It must have been difficult to approach and to study such visual disfigurement in the first place, in part because these attacks are designed to shame their victims. How did you approach your visual study of wounds that are already an assault on visuality, that challenge and disturb our gaze as spectators?

Pallavi Govindnathan: A lot of artists feel that their works are stronger if they themselves have experienced the subject in some form. They have endured discrimination or difficult times in their own lives and make this the focus of their art. I went through a phase of believing that my art would work best if I myself was directly involved in the material. But when I went to Bangladesh and visited these women, I realized that as an artist I had an obligation — especially living in today’s society — to create works that addressed different social and political contexts. Also, being multicultural and having a nomadic lifestyle, I feel the responsibility of connecting and respecting different cultures and traditions while reserving the right to be critical of them.