CHENNAI: Atrue Chennaiite, Vinodh Kumar says he prefers the heat over the rains in Chennai, and that he’d gladly live through the summer months without bickering. The award-winning paper cutting artist talks to City Express about his trials and tribulations in the art industry
After paper was introduced in the Ming dynasty (China), in the 6th Century, paper cutting became a prevalent form of art for their people. All the paper that went to waste was used for the art in the beginning and it was used to document events that took place in that century. In 2009, UNESCO identified the traditional art form, and added it to their intangible cultural heritage list. “Since then, this art form has been accepted widely. I found it easy to apply for competitions at national levels and didn’t get rejected. Now it’s identified under mixed media in the art category,” says Vinodh.
He adds that the Sanji art practiced in India is similar to the Chinese art form. Sanji art is used mainly for kolams. “For a city like Chennai with so much cultural heritage, art is very important. Without temples, structures and inscriptions, we wouldn't be able to trace back our history and figure out where we are from. Hence, it has been quite easy to convey this art form to people here,” he adds.
Vinodh, however, feels it is necessary to create more awareness, for better reach. “I agree that it is much better now after the UNESCO listings, but it still hasn't received the kind of audience it should. Everyone seems inquisitive about a mall opening. The same way, people should be open to all new art forms and encourage artists like us,” he says. “Social media has been a huge support to promote the art form and get people to attend my shows.”
But why Chinese paper cutting? It’s the difficulty level of the art, he says. “It is very unique, the intricacies are challenging and it’s a thrill to practice it widely in a city where the art was almost unknown to all. The structural study involved is higher than any artform, and that intrigued me.”
After stumbling upon the practice of paper cutting on YouTube 13 years ago, he worked on several basic designs that he saw online. However, he was unable to work on his own compositions, as he was learning through the method of trial and error.
Incidentally however, he met a paper cutting artist in Goa when he went there on a holiday with his friends. “He became my ‘guru’ of sorts,” he says. “I don’t remember his name, but I do know it ended with ‘Lee’ (laughs). And since Lee spoke only Mandarin and broken English, communication was a challenge.”
Not withstanding the passion he has for this art form, Vinodh is not going to push his son to take this on. “He can do whatever he wants. I will support him all the way, just like my father did.”
Just like every artist has the need to convey something, Vinodh states that he wants to bring out things that are lost, and go unnoticed. “I once worked on a piece that focused on shopkeepers at Marina beach. I felt bad that their livelihoods were affected after a new rule that did not allow vendors to sell on the beach anymore was passed.”
His dream project is to work on a Mahabharata series on a single roll of paper. “I would like to depict each character through my eyes, the way I see them. Another project would be the depiction of Kamasutra. India is still apprehensive about displaying nudes in their exhibitions, and maybe in a couple of years, I would get the opportunity to display different sutras that have no visual representation till now,” he says.
Vinodh Kumar’s work is exhibited at Ambassador Pallava till May 30