Saturday, July 28, 2012

Kerala through the microscope

13 stalwart artists, all of Kerala origin, showcase their response to the 1341 AD flooding of Kodungaloor at the OED gallery at Mattancherry

Photos: 'Blood Brothers' by Riyas Komu; Gopikrishna’s oil on canvas, ‘Homecoming’

By Shevlin Sebastian

When you step into the new Open-Eyed Dreams (OED) gallery at Mattancherry, one is immediately taken aback by the large installation art placed alongside one wall. There 365 pieces made of aluminum cast. They show soldiers wearing helmets and shields and holding swords in their hands, all done in a silvery tinge. The width is 29 feet, while the height is 15 ft. It is called ‘Blood Brothers’, done by artist Riyas Komu.

I have been inspired by a 13th century stone-relief of the Seljuk warriors of Turkey,” says Riyas. “When you look at human history, conflicts, caused by class and caste divisions, religious hatreds, and political differences, have been the cause for unrest in almost every part of the world.” This remarkable work has also been displayed in Teheran, Dubai, Delhi and Tel Aviv.

Another painting which catches the eye is the one next to it: D. Sunoj’s ‘The Promise of a Metropolis’. An acrylic on linen, it shows a few multi-storeyed buildings, the rooms all brightly light. The sky is black, which indicates that it is a night scene. Lamps on the walls also glow brightly. On the walls are plants with white flowers. All is positive seems to the message of the painting.     

Another striking work is Gopikrishna’s oil on canvas called ‘Homecoming’. It shows a nude muscular man with green eyes and red lips and swept-back brown hair hugging a leopard with green wings. The animal’s open mouth reveals jagged teeth. And on its back are the green wings of a bird. Three leopards sit on their haunches, again with green wings, gazing at the man with an expressionless look on their faces. 

Interestingly, the eyes of the man and the leopards are of the same yellow colour. “I wanted to show that human beings as well as leopards are God's creations,” says Gopikrishna. “We come from the same source in the Universe.”

At the corner of the painting is a white rucksack. It seems the man has given up all his possessions and has come to the jungle to live in tune with Nature. “Nature is a very important concept in my work,” says Gopikrishna. “Both inner and outer nature.”

Nature is also part of Rajan Krishnan's painting. Drawn in the Indian miniature style, it shows a massive cashew tree, with each leaf and nut meticulously drawn. The leaves are so numerous that the trunk seems to be bending under the weight. “I wanted to show that despite all the damage that we do, the Earth is still so nurturing,” says Rajan. “Each leaf and cashew nut is meticulously drawn, unlike in the West, where they do paintings which create an illusion of appearance.”

Reji K.P.’s ‘Tuti Nama’ has no illusory appearance. It is a simple image of a man filling his old style scooter with petrol through a plastic pipe, one end of which is placed in a bottle. A peaceful-looking cat lies under the vehicle. Through a gap between two shops, electric wires can be seen. And in the distance, there seems to be a large floating balloon in the sky. Next to the man’s shop is another one in which a woman is darning a cloth, while some sarees can be seen on cloth hangers. A young boy sits on the steps of the house, making a trap to catch a bird. It is a neat, simple drawing, with a commendable clarity and simplicity. The title, ‘Tuti Nama’, or ‘Tales of a Parrot’, refers to a 14th century collection of Persian morality tales.

“I just wanted to show daily life,” says Reji. “The man is a scooter mechanic, while the woman in the next shop is a tailor. The boy is learning violence from a young age by making a trap. In the distance, there are two men standing on the road, next to a person driving a tractor. But the men have their heads blown off. Every day, somewhere there is a bomb blast taking place.”

All these works are being shown in the exhibition called 1341 AD. “That was when the great flooding of the port of Kodungaloor took place,” says gallery owner Dilip Narayanan. “Thereafter, Kochi became the premier port. I invited 13 artists of Kerala origin, from Mumbai, Kolkata, Baroda , and Thiruvananthapuram, among other places, to celebrate the event.”

The other stalwart artistes include Bose Krishnamachari, N.M. Rimzon, Sumedh Rajendran, Zakkir Hussain, Bhagyanath, Reghunandan, Binoy Varghese and Baiju Parthan.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi) 

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