Thursday, May 08, 2014

Two dimensions of India

Wilhelm Bronner of Germany holds a joint exhibition, 'East Meets West', with Malayali artist AM Victoria

Photo by Mithun Vinod 

By Shevlin Sebastian

In November, 2012, German artist Wilhelm Bronner had held an exhibition at Fort Kochi. Following the conclusion, he had several wooden frames which he wanted to give away before flying back. That was how he met local painter AM Victoria. They became friends and decided to hold an exhibition together. This was called 'East Meets West', and it took place recently at Kochi's Durbar Hall Art Gallery.

Wilhelm's striking work, an acrylic on canvas, is a microcosm of life on the streets of over-crowded cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Delhi. So there are car drivers dodging cyclists and vegetable vendors with their wooden carts filled with produce. Cows and dogs are wandering about, people in doorways are shouting and talking to each other, a man is sitting on a chair and reading the newspaper, while a woman walks carefully while carrying a basket on her head. High above, aeroplanes are flying across the sky.

I wanted to show the variety of life in an Indian city,” says Wilhelm. “It is also clear that the country is grappling with the problems caused by over-population.”

Wilhelm's other notable work is a series of small wooden blocks which have been painted in grey acrylic paint. On each block, at the left side are small drawings, like squiggles, of life in India and on the right, the same event is taking place in Germany.

So a man is shown defecating into a pond in India, while in Germany, they use the toilet. Another work is called 'Conflict Management'. It shows a group of Indians just nodding their heads, while there is verbal anger displayed by the Germans. “Indians tend to avoid conflict,” says Wilhelm. “They will not say anything direct. In Germany, they tell it straight. Sometimes, it is a form of aggression.”

Wilhelm, who has been to India several times, says that both countries can learn from each other. “The Germans can learn about touching, caring and living through the heart from the Indians,” he says. “On the other hand, Indians can understand about organisation, punctuality and hygiene.”

It pains Wilhelm that India is so uncared for. “The people treat nature as a dumping place,” he says. “Why is garbage thrown on the streets, fields and rivers? It makes me feel sad.”
Victoria is also saddened by the state of Kerala. In one acrylic on canvas, she has drawn several women, as well as men, carrying brown pitchers on their heads. At the side, there is a tap from which a single drop of water is falling into a pitcher which has the face of a forlorn woman.

There is a shortage of water all over the state,” she says. “All the wells have gone. We had so many ponds. In fact, the pond where I use to bathe in when I was a child, has vanished. Instead, I was astonished to discover, on a recent visit, that it has become a garbage dumping area.”

Another work is of two girls sitting on a patch of grass beside a jasmine tree. They are wearing the typical Malayali attire of paavada and blouse, with long plaited hair, and kaajal-rimmed eyes. It is a soothing image, but Victoria is worried about their future. “When the girls get married what sort of a life is it going to be?” says Victoria. “Will they get good husbands? Will they look after their wives properly? Will the girls be happy?” 

(The New Indian Express, Sunday Standard Magazine, New Delhi, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram) 

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