Monday, July 06, 2015


Artist Sreeja Kalappurakkal pastes the feathers of birds onto her paintings. The effect is charming and attractive

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photos by Ratheesh Sundaram

In the 1980s, Excise Inspector Vijay Kumar would go in search of bootleg smugglers in the Nilambur Forests of Kerala. During his work, he would also have an assignment given by his eight-year-old daughter Sreeja Kalappurakkal. Vijay had to collect the fallen feathers of birds. From childhood, collecting feathers was a great passion for me,” says Sreeja. “I would also go in search of it in the nearby houses and gardens.”

Once she got a feather, she would clean it with soap and water, then place it inside a folded paper, and write the name of the bird on top. “A feather is like a human hair,” says Sreeja. “It lasts a long time.”

When she grew up, Sreeja got married and went to Mumbai in 1999. Then her mother gave the feathers away to various nephews and nieces. When in 2002, Sreeja returned and settled down in her hometown, Thrissur, she got a shock to know that her collection no longer existed. Undeterred, she began once more.

Some pet-bird owners gave feathers easily. Others would say a point-blank no.
Meanwhile, she had a stroke of luck when she met businessman Vinod Davy. “He has birds worth Rs 20 lakh in his house,” says Sreeja. “Vinod would just open his cages and allow me to go in. I got a lot of feathers like this. Anil Thambi, another bird owner, also helped me a lot, apart from my friends.”

Today, Sreeja has a collection of 500 feathers. They include the feathers of pet birds like parakeets, macaques, pigeons, kites, cockatoos, egrets, pheasants, canaries and parrots.

Sometime, last year, Sreeja stumbled onto an idea: to paste the feathers onto the paintings that she was doing. So, for her first exhibition, at Thrissur, of flora and fauna, she used feathers as part of the drawings. So, instead of drawing leaves, she would paste the feathers. “People expressed a lot of appreciation,” she says. “Quite a few wanted to know how it was done. Many were shocked to know that there are so many types of birds in Kerala.”

The second exhibition, not surprisingly, was on birds. So, she would paint the head and the beak, and then put actual feathers for the wings. “I use Fevicol to paste the feathers,” she says. Sreeja has also used feathers for her paintings on tribals, landscapes, houses, people, paddy fields, a swarm of fish, peacocks and butterflies. The end-result is charming: you feel drawn to the paintings simply because feathers have always had a magical effect on people, right from one's childhood.

In her daily life, Sreeja is a drawing teacher at the Harisree Vidyanikethan school. So, she starts work on her paintings, only at 9 p.m., after her ten-year-old son has gone to sleep. And she works late into the night. “It can get very hot, since I cannot switch on the fan, as the feathers will get blown away,” says Sreeja.

Incidentally, her passion has enabled Sreeja to get an entry in the India Book Of Records. “I have the largest feather collection combined with art works,” she says. Today, Sreeja is giving the final touches on a book on art, which will be published in a few months time. 

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

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