Artist Milburn Cherian’s acrylic canvases at first glance appear like scenes from the Bible. The multiple narratives have hundreds of people.
On closer introspection, one understands how the Mumbai-based artist has used biblical references to highlight the tragedies and catastrophes impacting mankind. For instance, Tsunami, triggered by the 2004 tsunami that struck the coast of Tamil Nadu, is riddled with broken houses and people trying to rebuild their lives from scratch.
In the corner is a woman selling gold, attempting to restart life after one of the deadliest natural disasters occurred a day after Christmas that year.
The work is part of the exhibition ‘Living Between the Times 2020’ at Visual Arts Gallery in Delhi. Featuring works created in the last 20 years, the overriding themes are displacement, suffering, and hope. Earthy tones and a sepia tint bring alive the paintings that borrow from chapters from the Bible, such as Crucifixion Revisited, The Last Supper and Give Ear To My Prayer.
One of the central works is the canvas titled The Healing, with Christ talking to more than 200 people. It is special for Cherian. She calls it a “blessed work”. It was painted by her for the Diocesan Commission for Sacred Art, and displayed during the exposition of the sacred relics of St Francis Xavier in Old Goa in 2004.
Touched and kissed by lakhs of people, when the artwork returned, it appeared white due to their thumb imprints.
A graduate in visual communication from Ahmedabad’s National Institute of Design, Cherian, 62, has previously exhibited at Mumbai’s Jehangir Art Gallery and Mayfair gallery in London.
Describing the works, she says, “One perpetual running theme through the years in my works has been to emphasise the wretchedness surrounding us, the pain, the suffering and the poverty. I bring a surreal twist to it. I have human bodies without hands and limbs. They appear like shells with clothes on. But I show the full bodies of children, since they are innocent. Although there is so much suffering, we still go about our daily lives.”
In some of the works, Cherian indirectly refers to the recent violence in Delhi and the current political climate. The canvas Towards Salvation was painted in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots. It has bandaged followers seated together in clusters in their houses, gazing at the sky with hope.
A self-taught artist, she is inspired by Dutch Renaissance master Pieter Bruegel. The actors in her canvases are usually the poor. Explaining the reason, she says, “In Mumbai, we have the biggest slum Dharavi. The living conditions there are really bad.
There’s a lot of poverty. We need to unite and start asking questions — why does one percent have all the wealth? Why is everything made in China?”
The exhibition is on till March 7 at India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road