Monday, November 25, 2013

In Touch with Mother Earth

Artist Paris Viswanadhan talks about his five-decade long career, after a visual presentation of his works in Kochi

Photo: Paris Viswanadhan with his partner, the French artist Nadine Tarbouriech

By Shevlin Sebastian

In May, 1976, artist Paris Viswanadhan drove out from the German city of Dortmund in his Renault car and headed towards Cuxhaven, 340 kms away, to meet a collector of his works. As usual, driving on the multi-laned autobahn was a pleasure. However, a few kilometres later, Viswanadhan had to slow down because some road repair work was going on. As he did so, he was slammed from behind by a speeding Mercedes Benz. The Renault was hurled towards the protection barriers and was crushed on both sides. Within minutes, police arranged for an ambulance to transport the stricken artist to a hospital in Dortmund.

Viswanadhan had several injuries, but had not lost consciousness. At the casualty ward, as the doctor pressed a needle into Viswanadhan’s arm, he let out a cry of pain.

The doctor said, “Oh, you are alive. Who are you? Where do you come from?” These became existential questions for Viswanadhan. For ten days while under treatment, he pondered over them. “Where do I come from?” says Viswanadhan. “If I say I am an Indian, I could visualise this huge nation with so many different cultures, religions and states.” (Incidentally, there was one good event which came out of the accident. After a court case, he received a huge pay-off from the insurance company.)

When Viswanadhan recovered, he felt the need to get in touch with his roots. So, he called his friend, the famed Thiruvananthapuram-based film-maker, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, and they embarked on a tour of the beaches of India. These included the ones at Dwaraka, Porbundar, Somnath, Dandi, Mumbai, Goa, Kannur, Kanyakumari, Chennai and Pondicherry. 

While Adoor made a film, Viswanadhan collected sand. Thereafter, he made a work called 'Sand', which consisted of a panel of 17 squares. In each square, it contained the sand from a particular place. This work, which was reworked upon, was shown at the Kochi Muziris Biennale last year.

The accident was a turning point in my evolution as an artist,” he says. “I decided to get in touch with the earth. I focused on the water, fire, air and the sky. I came into my element through this project.”  

The Paris-based Viswanadhan was in Kochi recently to attend the presentation of 'Kadavoor-Chennai-Paris', which was organised by the Kochi Biennale. Essentially, these are photographs showing the evolution of Viswanadhan during his 50-year long career. After the screening, audience members suggested that he hold an actual retrospective of his work. “I am receptive to the idea, but I would need the help of others to set it up,” says Viswanadhan.

Accompanying him on his tour was his long-time partner, the French artist Nadine Tarbouriech. And, of course, it is an intense experience for two artists to live together. “There are beautiful as well as disturbing moments,” says Viswanadan. “Being artists, we can help each other. There is a common unity that makes us a community.”

Meanwhile, when asked about the state of art in Kerala, he says, “All the great Malayali artists – Raja Ravi Varma, KCS Paniker, Madhavan Menon, KG Subramaniam and A Ramachandran – had to go outside the state to make a mark. This is also the case with the new-generation artists like Bose Krishnamachari, Riyas Komu and others. The artists who have never left the womb of their mothers are against the pravasi Malayalis. They have no experience of the outside. They stare at their navels and think that this is the world.”

But Viswanadhan is hopeful that the huge success of the Kochi Biennale will help change the indifferent mindset to art that exists among the people. “It could be the start of a renaissance of art in Kerala,” he says. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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