KOCHI: Three years ago, artist KP Pradeepkumar was standing at Kurla station in Mumbai waiting for a train to Kochi. Then he heard, through the public address system that the train would be delayed by a few hours. As Pradeepkumar was wondering how to pass the time, he accidentally met Samuel Isaac (name changed), a 26-year-old Jew from Israel.
“He was doing research on Indian philosophy at Jaipur National University,” he says. “Samuel had travelled a lot. And he spoke about the sense of dislocation that he felt. He was also confused about his motherland because of the conflicts and problems in the region. He said his countrymen felt under some sort of a threat.”
Pradeepkumar felt a kinship with Samuel. “He was struggling and so was I as an artist,” says Pradeepkumar. “From birth, we have an existential confusion: Who are we? What we are? Where are we going?”
This conversation turned out to be an inspiration for Pradeepkumar. When he returned to his studio at Mattancherry, he began working on a series of paintings. Around 58 paintings, a work of two years is now on display at the OED Art Gallery at Mattancherry. The exhibition is called 'Improbable Suburban'. “I got these words from the work of [great Argentine writer Jorge Luis] Borges,” says Pradeepkumar. “The story is about the shifts in time and space, and the impact on one's self. My work focuses on these aspects.”
In fact, they are beguiling paintings. When you keep staring at it, you spot different things. In one painting, 'Creation of Adam' (mix media on paper), right at the centre of the work, two coconut trees seem to be growing almost from the same roots. In the crook, at the bottom, there is the reclining figure of a naked man with a pointed finger.
This figure is a parody of Michalangelo's 'Creation of Adam', a fresco painting which can be seen on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. “All around Adam I have put in the local vegetation of Kerala,” says Pradeepkumar. “There is a snake below the man which is symbolic in nature. The snake represents Tantric power, spirituality and religion.” If you peer deeply, there are also birds, crows and insects.
In a similar work, there are several naked man holding hands and standing in a straight line going right across the painting. “They represent the landless people,” says Pradeekumar. “This is the status of many marginalised communities in India.”
In another painting, there are numerous birds sitting atop coconut trees, near the seashore. “They have a wonderful and panoramic view, as compared to human beings,” says Pradeepkumar. “So, they are able to see people who come from the sea on ships. The work is also a look at our colonial past, and how external forces come into our land. And we are continually seeing the impact of that.”
One impact can be seen in the drawing on paper of a rubber forest. Pradeepkumar had seen these forests in the Kattapana and Palakkad areas. Beneath the trees, he has drawn white coffee flowers. “I am giving a hint of the colonial history in India through the coffee image,” he says. “Many Britishers had come to Kerala and planted tea and coffee plants in our mountains in Munnar and other places.”
The artist has also drawn several men who are sitting or reclining on the top of trees. “These are the many versions of my self,” he says. Right through the middle there is a brown patch. This was formerly a river which has dried out. “The river resembles culture and civilisation which looks dried out these days,” he says.
In ‘Red Terrain’, expectedly, to suit the title, Pradeepkumar has painted it in a light red colour. In the image, there are several trees with exposed roots.
“I have shown the roots, to give a hint of soil erosion,” he says. “This is also a political reference to the Communist ideology in Kerala. Nevertheless, whichever party is in power, the people have to pay a price of living in a politically-charged atmosphere.” The exhibition concludes on April 25.