CHENNAI : A paati surrounded by the familiar items in a kutti kadai, pastel doodles of smiling women, birds and plants in Auroville, and a caricature sketch of Veerappan — these are among the 30-odd artworks hanging on cloth walls of Artifact Artspace. From animation, and posters, to sculptures, each work in Thiruvizha Chennai’s exhibition was across mediums, resisting easy definition.
Yet, the common theme that weaves the work of 12 artists is ‘Pitha’ — madness or devotion devoid of reasoning. “In ancient Tamil poetry and literature, the word ‘Pitha’ refers to a person intoxicated by devotion. The line is Pitha Pirai Soodi. To be an artist, you have to be obsessed about your medium,” explains Aadhi, artist and co-curator. In line with this, the Thiruvizha poster announces the theme and poses a question: “Have you ever been so obsessed with something that it starts to seem like you’re going mad?” If you’re expecting answers to this question, expect to obtain more questions in this exhibition that celebrates and indulges obsession.
In the spirit of art bringing change to society, ‘Pitha’ is also raising funds for the Ennore gas leak and floods. “With these funds, we will be able to help the activists there and promote their activism,” says Aadhi.
Art of madness
Across history, doses of devotion, an element of madness, and sharp ways of seeing have informed the works of artists. A paint-splashed cardboard hallway set up in between the corridors reminds onlookers: “Art happens, it cannot be made.”
Walking through the exhibition, blue figures on checked sari canvases caught my eye. Artist Poorvaja tells stories of caste, class, and labour. “When we wear a sari, there are pleats (signifying a story). You see every farmer and fisherperson go to work wearing this, so it is something that speaks about labour. Through my works, I look at the contrast between rural and urban landscapes and find rage between them,” she explains. One of Poorvaja’s works is inspired by MC Escher’s impossible staircase, alluding to generations grappling with casteism, and another depicts monkeys “as agents of rage.”
As for Sivaranjani V, she is inspired by artists like Salvador Dali and Johfra Bosschart, and her four artworks are true to the abstract style. For instance, inspired by the wall in the Karthi-starrer Madras, her ‘The Walls Have Eyes’ examines how “the wall becomes a relic and piece of evidence” of electoral campaigns and cinema spilling into politics. Blending politics, language, and films, she says, “I like motifs like eyes and seashells. Inspired by Tamil literature or movies, I see language as a texture, and I think films give a lot of political awareness, they help me understand things better.”
The show also carves out a space for first-time exhibitors like Ashif Ferdous, a sculptor, whose work questions identity and the act of looking at the self. Other artists include Poorvi, Meenakshi Ayyappan, Sasithar, Saira, Preethi, and others.
‘Pitha’ also doubles as an introduction to art, culture, and history. A case in point is Aadhi’s retro poster, which challenges how society views women as goddesses. Set against a background of scribbles, a poster of a female idol is reimagined with snippets borrowed from other paintings — the leg replaced with one from Ruby Bridges, the first African-American girl to go to a public school, a demented smile from a popular painting covering the idol’s demure mouth.
Filled with open mics, other performances, and interactive sessions, the exhibition also engages with audiences. At the heart of it, ‘Pitha’ inspires devotion and obsession within people, urging them to go home and pick up their paintbrushes.
‘Pitha’ will be on display at the Artifact Artspace, Manam Dentofacial Hospital on Ponamallee High Road till February 2. Entry is free.