Photos: Self-portrait by Hayan Lee; ‘The All-Purpose Room,’by Kavita Singh Kale
By Shevlin Sebastian
In the ‘Eco Strokes’ painting exhibition, there are 37 paintings and just one photograph. This is a self-portrait by South Korean artist Hayan Lee. It has the narrowed eyes of a South Korean woman, looking unblinkingly at the viewer, with sensuous red lips, the head covered by a flamboyant red turban and a hibiscus tucked at one corner, just above the ear.
This painting was done at the week-long ‘Speaking House’ camp, held at the Marari Beach Resort, belonging to the CGH Earth Group at Alleppey. Around 26 artists from six nations took part in the camp. Hayan’s untitled work was to be exhibited, but, unfortunately, for her, the painting was attacked by fungus and could not be shown. Hence, the photograph was displayed. Under it, curator Radha Gomaty wrote: “I am forced now to place this photograph with a bereaved feeling. It is like replacing someone who was so vibrantly alive amongst us. The red hibiscus is Korea ‘s national flower, even if it not so common in Kerala.”
When Radha asked Hayan at the end of a discussion if she knew what the red hibiscus tucked behind the ear meant in Kerala, she said, “Of course I do! It means you are crazy, right? I put it there deliberately because of that.”
Incidentally, the exhibition was organised by the Building Association of India. It is a prelude to the 40th Convention of the International Federation of Asian and Western Pacific Contractors’ Associations being held in Kochi.
Filipino artist Ambie Abano’s work, ‘My Home Resides Within’, shows a middle-aged woman with eyes closed. The eyelashes are thick and arched, the nose is long and patrician, and the red lips, like Hayan’s painting, sensuous. It could be an Indian or a Filipino woman. “But it is actually a self-portrait,” says Ambie. “Home is not just about a physical space, but a spiritual state.”
Ambie, of course, was deeply influenced by her encounter with Kerala. “It is a paradise,” she says. “It was nice meeting people who are deeply grounded, warm and sensitive. It made me aware of the ‘other’ and my connectedness with them.”
The Chennai-based Benitha Percyal’s striking work could be about a woman, with nice curves. But it looks like a tree. And in the middle, there are several seeds, pasted on the paper, but the whole thing is shaped like a uterus or is it a vagina? The materials Benitha has used include seeds, torn paper, and tea on paper. “Of course, seed is a metaphor for life,” says Benitha. “I wanted to portray womanhood. Indirectly, the image is a self-portrait.”
On the other hand, Kavita Singh Kale of Mumbai has done several portraits. Titled, ‘The All-Purpose Room,’ which is an acrylic on canvas, she has drawn several square panels in which men and women are standing. The women are wearing sarees, salwar kameezes, skirts, housecoats and jumpers, with names, written in Hindi, like Ameesha, Amala, Shivani and Nina. The men are wearing trousers, dhotis and Bermuda shorts, having names like Tapan, Hari and Ram.
“I wanted to reveal life in the chawls of Mumbai,” says Kavita, who lives in the city. “Many families live in one room where they live, sleep, and worship their gods. This work shows a morning scene where people are getting ready to go to work or to schools while the women are setting out to do the daily cleaning and washing.”
Meanwhile, CB Bahuleyan shows a nest of bird’s eggs growing around the thin rods between two concrete beams. In the distance can be seen several multi-storeyed buildings.
This is an indication that even though development, in the form of buildings, seems to smash through Nature, life still goes on: eggs hatch, babies are born, and they will grow up into adults. “I have been inspired by the works of Rene Magritte [a Belgian surrealist painter],” says Bahuleyan.
All in all, it is a remarkable exhibition, which grips and holds the viewer.
Those who took part include Anjum Chaturvedi, Saami Atmaja, Sosa Joseph, Dedy Sufriadi, Gayatri Gamuz, T.K. Harindran, Kim Seola, Lalitha Lajmi, Lavanya Mani, Madhu Venugopal, Maneesha Doshi, Rashmi Trivedi, Rathidevi Panikker, Ritu Kamath, Radha Gomaty, Sajitha Shankar, Satyanand Mohan, Sayaka Arase, Shivani Aggarwal, V. Ramesh and Veer Munshi.