Senior artist N Balamuralikrishnan’s painting exhibition, ‘Memoirs of Onattukara’ is a thought-provoking one
Photos: N. Balamuralikrishnan. Paddy fields. A telecom tower. Pics by Arun Angela
By Shevlin Sebastian
As one stepped into the ‘Memoirs of Onattukara’ exhibition by artist N Balamuralikrishnan, at the Durbar Hall Gallery, Kochi, a large canvas catches the eye. It is almost like a drone’s eye view of several green paddy fields stretching out in the distance with green parrots flying above it, along with a white swan. In front, are several golden sheaves of paddy. It brings a moment of tranquillity as one stares at it. But immediately next to this 14’x 4’ acrylic on canvas is an image of a hill seen between the bars of a telecom tower. And that sets the tone for the exhibition.
On the opposite side, on a large black-and-white canvas, a lorry is dumping waste on a patch of land. But when you look closely at the garbage, you can see an owl, rabbit, tortoise, mouse, frog, snail, beetle, and a mouse trapped in it. In another image, a paddy field next to a railway line is filled with pieces of stone.
“My hometown of Onattukara has changed,” says Balamuralikrishnan. “In the name of development, forests and paddy fields have been flattened. Buildings have come up. Telecom towers have been installed in sacred groves. This has spoilt the harmony of the place. Money has been coming from the Malayalis living in the Gulf and is causing rapid changes.”
Balamuralikrishnan had created an image of a man carrying large plastic materials like buckets, mugs, brooms, ladles, pots and chairs on a bicycle. “The arrival of plastic has also caused a lot of damage,” he says.
For several years Balamuralikrishnan had been an art teacher in a government school in Kannur. But in 2013, after taking voluntary retirement, he returned to his hometown and was able to observe the changes first-hand.
He also focused a bit on history. In one image, the head of a statue of Lord Buddha, with a topknot, can be seen nose-deep inside a lake. At the side, broken columns are lying about, with grass growing over it.
The Hindu sage and reformer Chattampi Swamikal (1853-1924) while visiting Mavelikara saw women washing clothes by hitting the stone of a statue which was three-quarters below the surface of a river. Sensing there was something more, with the help of the local people, Chattampi was able to bring up the statue of Lord Buddha. And today, it has been put in a place of prominence.
In the eight century, the Onattukara area was a flourishing centre for Buddhist culture. Many villages and towns had names ending in Palli, which was common in Pali, the language of Theravada Buddhism. But soon Hinduism reasserted itself. As a consequence, Buddhism faded away.
Meanwhile, on one side, Balamuralikrishnan has done several small charcoal drawings within the frame of a canvas. In one, a bare-bodied man, with palms upraised, near his face was shouting “Hoi Hoi”, to warn lower-caste people to stay away. Behind him was a horse-drawn carriage, which had an upper-caste passenger. When they went past a school, social reformer TK Madhavan, who was a child then, mimicked the sound of “Hoi, Hoi.”
The carriage moved on. After several hours, two men came to find out who had shouted. The children and teachers remained silent. But Madhavan confessed and was beaten up.
“It was a time when workers also had to hide when a member of the upper caste walked on the road,” says Balamuralikrishnan.
But there was a path to freedom. Another image showed a tall, bearded Christian priest, in a white cassock, arms upraised, while on the ground in front of him sat several downtrodden people. “Because of the priest’s help the lower castes were able to get access to education and by adopting Christianity they could walk anywhere,” says Balamuralikrishnan.
Other images include members of the Communist Party holding aloft their hammer and sickle flags, as they took out a demonstration, a boat on a river and an autorickshaw, with a loudspeaker on top, announcing a death.
All in all, this senior artist’s exhibition, comprising 21 works, is a thought-provoking one.
(The New Indian Express, Kochi)