By Shevlin Sebastian
Photos: Zakkir Hussain, Anitha Thampi and Saju Kunhan. Pics by K. Shijith
One evening, artist Zakkir Hussain had a cup of tea at a hotel on Bazaar Road in the island of Mattancherry, near Kochi. When he stepped out, he heard a man shouting at another person, “You must vacate the house as soon as possible. Otherwise, I will get you evicted.”
It raised a major issue for Zakkir, who has a studio in Mattancherry. “Too many people do not own houses in Mattancherry,” he says.
So, when he was invited to take part in an exhibition called 'Mattancherry', which has been curated by Kochi Biennale founder, Riyas Komu, at the URU Art Harbour gallery, he focused on the subject of homelessness.
There are three works hanging side by side. In one, there is a woman with a fan hanging near her head, and there is a drawing of a house as well as a goat along the front of her body. She is standing on the steps of a house, balancing herself on a small wheel.
“The wheel indicates that they are members of a floating population, with no permanent place to stay,” he says. “I added a goat because it is a common sight all over Mattancherry.” The other two paintings, which feature men, explore the same theme.
Meanwhile, photographer KR Sunil spent two months wandering around the bylanes of the town. “I decided to do portraits of people,” he says.
At the exhibition, 23 portraits are on show. One of them is of a porter who works on Bazaar Road. He is standing bare-bodied, with tufts of grey hair on his chest, and a folded towel over his head.
“At seventy-years of age, he is the senior-most porter,” says Sunil. “But I noticed that he had more energy than many of his younger colleagues.”
As for artist Saju Kunhan, his work is devoid of people. Instead, it is a drone-like image, focusing on Mattancherry, Fort Kochi, Vypeen and the other smaller islands. In the sea, ships with sails can be seen.
“This area has a centuries-old history of migration, thanks to a natural harbour,” says Saju. “So, a lot of ships arrived for hundreds of years.”
To make the work, Saju took a printout of a Google map. This was transferred onto a teak wood surface using an acrylic medium. “It is a long drawn-out process,” says Saju. But the 12' x 5' work, 'Our land is part of the globe', is one of the eye-catching ones at the exhibition.
The others who participated included poet Anitha Thampi, whose Malayalam poems, written on one wall of the gallery explore the life and times of the place. On another wall, artist PS Jalaja has done a large and remarkable portrait of a working-class man.
There is also the Chennai-based Urban Design Collective, which has traced the history of Mattancherry through maps and graphics, while the research collective Route Cochin has focused on the enduring charm of the Dutch Breudher bread.
Asked the reasons for the theme of Mattancherry, Riyas says, “Because of the Bienalle, I have been frequenting the town for the past eight years. So, I felt the time had come to argue more for the people of Mattancherry. They face many problems like housing and a poor economy. At the gallery, we want to put up art works that are socially relevant.”
(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)