What does freedom and democracy mean to differently-abled artists who paint with their mouth and feet? When Kerala-born Ganesh Kumar was asked this question, he responded by painting a banyan tree, which stood for democracy. “Just like the tree, the roots of our democracy are strong and cover everyone, from rich to the poor, layman to ‘lords’,” Kumar, a self-taught mouth-painting artist, told indianexpress.com.
The art pieces by Kumar and seven other foot and mouth painting artists show how people from diverse backgrounds come together to champion for a better future.
Playing with the idea of freedom, Kumar believes that India, which celebrates its 73rd Independence Day today, is unique when it comes to its Constitution’s intense attention to detail. “For me, freedom is a state of mind without any inhibitions, conflict, fear and limitation. The Indian Constitution gives that freedom to one and all, including the differently-abled,” said Kumar, who was first affected by polio at the age of one, and gradually lost movement in both his hands and feet.
Using acryclic and marker pens, Kumar, who is a member of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists Association (MFPA) since 1988, created his artwork in partnership with The Great Indian Election – a documentary by National Geographic, which aims to showcase the mammoth task of conducting the exercise in the world’s largest democracy across a large and diverse votebank in 37 locations.
Inspired by the recently concluded 17th Lok Sabha elections and the focus on creating an “inclusive environment for people from all walks of life and abilities to fulfill their rights equally”, Kumar, with several exhibitions to his credit, remarked, “Freedom also means sharing so that the idea of a truly inclusive society can be realised.”
For mouth painting artist Srilekha Mandallapalli, born with a rare congenital condition known as Arthrogyposis Multiplex Congenita that has her confined to a wheelchair, the idea of freedom centres around basic needs. She dreams of a society that fulfills the five parameters — security, health, industry, agriculture and education. “Freedom is a power, where we can choose to be happy and aren’t judged for who we are or where we belong,” Hyderabad-based Mandallapalli told indianexpress.com.
Using oil on canvas, she has depicted the Indian map in her artwork titled Democracy and People’s Aspirations where she highlighted these five needs. “I feel these form the backbone of our country, which can only prosper if it pays attention to these factors and becomes more inclusive,” she commented.
What does she aspire for? “I feel everything is possible and achievable. Physical appearance doesn’t matter. Each person has their unique talent. Even if I am wheelchair-bound, nothing can stop me, and that truly reflects democracy and people’s aspiration,” she added.
Kumar and Mandallapalli are among eight artists, namely Bandenawaz Nadaf, Manoj Bhingare, Sheela Sharma, Swapna Augustine, Jesfer Pulikkathody, Mridul Ghosh and Sunita Thrippanikkara, who have illustrated “a barrier-free and inclusive India” as part of the Independence Day documentary.
The Great Indian Election will premiere on August 15, 2019 at 1 pm on National Geographic. It will be available on Hotstar as well.