Monday, October 08, 2018

A Wide Palette

More than 50 artistes took part in the third edition of the Cochin Art Show, which was held recently

Photos: The participating artists: Standing; Curator O Sundar; Babitha Rajeev and Basanth Peringode; Second row: KG Babu, Biji Bhaskar and Manikandan Punnakkal. Fronbt row: Bindhi Rajagopal and Anju Acharya. Photo by Albin Mathew. Work by Biji Bhaskar 

By Shevlin Sebastian

One morning, as dawn filtered through his bedroom window at his home in Muvattupuzha, Kerala, artist Biji Bhaskar awoke, but kept his eyes closed, as he stared at a scene in his imagination. It was a visual from his ancestral village of Pothanikad.

In those days life was simpler, there were no walls between houses, just hedges, and the people would interact with each other a lot,” he says. “Nowadays, people live in flats in cities and have no relationship with their neighbours.”

So when he got down to work, later in the morning, he decided to recreate the image. It is a post-wedding scene. So, at one side, a newly-married couple, holding garlands in their hands, stand surrounded by relatives and friends, while somebody holds up a black umbrella, to protect the duo from the sun. Just a few feet away, a photographer, a towel over his head, is peering into a camera placed on a tripod.

This is just beside a newly-tarred road, where there is an Ambassador which has ribbons placed diagonally across its bonnet, and a large Ashok Leyland bus which has brought the guests from far away. “It is a scene from the 1980s,” he says.

This work was featured in the third edition of the Cochin Art Fair, conceptualised and created by the Kochi-based artist O Sundar. 52 prominent and upcoming artists were taking part including Anil KV.

He has done canvases of 1 x 1 ½ feet that also shows idyllic scenes. A boy and a girl are flying a kite. Another pair of boys is catching a crab, near the backwaters. One boy is climbing a tree. A couple of schoolgirls in white tops and blue skirts, as well as a boy, is going to school. But behind them, there is an ammonia plant. In the others, in the background, there is an oil tanker, a plane and an aircraft carrier.

These scenes are from Willingdon Island,” says Anil. “I stayed there for the first 25 years of my life, as my father worked in the Cochin Port Trust. It is a dangerous place because there are ammonia factories, a sulphur factory, and 35 oil tanks. A Navy base is nearby. What I am trying to say is that at any moment there can be a major accident or fire on the island.”

In fact, a few months ago, an unmanned aerial vehicle operated by the Southern Naval Command hit an empty tank in a bulk liquid fuel terminal on the island. “There were fuel-filled tanks nearby,” says Anil. “Thankfully, a major tragedy was averted.”

Moving around the exhibits is architect A Mayukh, who is an art lover. “The versatility is amazing,” he says. “What I liked is that youngsters as well as senior artistes are sharing the same space.”

Mayukh met the curator O Sundar who told the art enthusiast, “There are no themes. People could put up what they wanted.” And so the themes ranged from nationalism, to deforestation, childhood vignettes, the impact of the Kerala floods and the isolation of unmarried people from society.

Meanwhile, artist Shinoj Choran has done a watercolour of dozens of men standing in a straight line, in bare feet, wearing a similar uniform with a cloth bag covering their heads. At one side, almost like a bookend is the Ashoka Chakra, one of the enduring symbols of Indian democracy. Not surprisingly, Shinoj has titled his work, 'Under the shadow of democracy'.

There are many people who are getting arrested, be it Maoists, human rights activists and artists,” he says. “They are standing in a line or they could be lying down. Their heads are covered to give them the symbol of victims.”

Shinoj's works have turned political in the past couple of years. “We are steadily losing our freedom,” he says. “That is the message I want to convey.”

As for Narayanan Mohanan, he also has a message. In his striking work, done in yellow glitter, against a red background, called '(Re)Build', there is, in ascending order, a power switch, a broom, a tray for transporting a cement mix, usually carried by workers on their heads, the filter inside an air-conditioner and a strained water pot.

All these are related to the construction of buildings,” he says. “Even if we say we belong to God's Own Country, there is lip service when it comes to protecting the greenery. Instead, construction is going on relentlessly. Politicians and bureaucrats are not protecting the environment. This is my critique of the system. Following the massive destruction caused by the floods, we need to rebuild in a different way.”

Finally, there is Kochi Biennale Founder Bose Krishnamachari's work called 'Forgetting is not as the same as not remembering'. It is a look at Indian nationalism, from the 1940s to the present day. There are eight graphite pieces, 2' by 1', placed one under the other, with sub-headings like 'Nationalism', 'We The People', 'War and Peace', 'Indira is India', 'Who am I?', 'Things Fall Apart', 'Fear and Loathing' and 'Nationalism?'

Says Bose, “The nationalism in the 1940s was very different from the right-wing nationalism of today. Will it take India back towards the dark ages? ” 

A river of talent

There were also striking works by Shibhu Natesan, Babitha Rajeev, Anju Acharya, Babu Xavier, Bara Bhaskaran, Basanth Peringode, Bindhi Rajagopal, Tom Vattakuzhy, Appukuttan MB, Ashil Antony, Rimzon NN, Babu KG, Akhil Mohan, Dhanya MC and Aswathi Mohan. 

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