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Monday, April 12, 2021

When the world’s your family and you paint the town red, blue and every other hue

For the first time, nearly 250 Malayalee artists come together in Alappuzha, Kerala, for a festival that opens doors and brings people closer to art

Written by Vandana Kalra | New Delhi |
March 14, 2021 6:16:10 am
Anpu Varkey in front of one of her graffitis.

Situated between the Arabian Sea and Vembanad Lake, the city of Alappuzha has charmed countless travellers over the centuries — from the numerous traders who once arrived at the docks of the port town to the British viceroy Lord Curzon, who christened it the “Venice of the East”.

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In recent years, the lake might have become home to houseboats thronged by tourists, but its beauty still speaks for itself.
Over 250 Malayali artists from across the world are now converging on the quaint town to participate in what is being touted as one of the biggest celebrations of artists from the region.

Organised by the Kochi Biennale Foundation and the state government and curated by artist and Biennale founder-director Bose Krishnamachari, the title of the showcase “Lokame Tharavadu” (the world is one family) borrows from verses of a Malayalam poem written by poet Vallathol Narayana Menon. “At the time of the global pandemic, the exhibition invokes the transformative potential of art to revive and resurrect the dejected human spirit,” says Krishnamachari.

Delhi-based artist Gigi Scaria’s Stuck

While the rising COVID-19 numbers in Kerala led to the postponement of the Biennale from December 2020 to 2021, late last year Krishnamachari began reaching out to artists with his new proposal. In 2005, he had spearheaded a similar initiative, titled “Double Enders” — a travelling exhibition of over 60 Keralite artists from the world over. “As an artist, Bose has always had a strong desire to draw links between artists from the state and to take their work back to the state… This is an opportunity for a lot of young artists to get their early exposure,” says Mumbai-based artist Jitish Kallat. Part of the 2005 showcase, the exhibition will feature one of his acclaimed works, Epilogue (2011), a photographic installation that retraces each of the 22,289 moons the artist’s father saw in his lifetime. Each moon is represented by a progressively eaten roti. The last moon he saw was on the night of December 1, 1998, symbolised by a lone moon appearing like a full stop in the work. “My father was from Kerala. The idea of returning the entire sequence of moon phases from his lifetime back to the state where he was born and raised felt like the completion of a cycle,” says Kallat.

For Bengaluru-based graffiti artist Anpu Varkey, the walls she has painted on the building owned by textile company William Goodacre & Sons Pvt Ltd, is her first outdoor project since the March 2020 lockdown. She has focussed on the history of the coir industry in the region. “I wanted to make something that resonated with the place. One of the works depicts tension, with a rope being pulled from both ends, like a tug of war. It shows strength and participation,” says Varkey, describing the 45-m long wall that took her six days to complete. Her second work is a large wall painted with a giant fish carcass. “It represents what’s left over; it’s also what we discard, a reassuring image of the dear fish and its remains,” adds Varkey.

Mumbai-based artist Jitish Kallat’s Epilogue

Spread across five venues in Alappuzha and one in Ernakulam, the exhibition will see artists from Netherlands, France, America, Australia, Turkey, Germany and England, among others, participate. “It is about 100,000 sq ft of exhibition area and I wanted to show a body of work for each artist,” says Krishnamachari. The participants includes veterans such as Velu Viswanathan and A Ramachandran to younger artists like TV Santosh, Sumedh Rajendran and Sam Kulavoor. “Most artists are showing more than one work, which will give people an idea about their practice,” says Kovalam-based artist Babu Xavier, who will showcase a selection of 30-odd early paper works.

Delhi-based Gigi Scaria brings out the paradoxes of the notion of “the world as one family” through four of his works on display at Port Museum. “While we are not alone in social situations, each individual deals with issues differently,” says Scaria. One of his recent bronze works, Stuck, has a tree struggling to shoot out from the confines of a house, symbolic of how urbanisation is suffocating the environment. In the 3.5 minute single-channel video Expanded (2015), he stitches together still photographs of refugee camps from different parts of the world in a single landscape. “These migrants are also part of the big family, but why have we abandoned them? Through the struggles of different times we understand how we operate as one family,” says the Kothanalloor-born artist.

Even as Krishnamachari finalises the finer nuances before the three-month-long exhibition opens on March 15, he hopes this will instill hope for normalcy and raise spirits. “Most artists have been confined to their homes for the last many months. This project is not just for them but also involves architects, students and the local population. Their participation at a time like this has been heartening,” he says.

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