From streets to canvas

This year’s theme, ‘Local,’ curated by Aishwarya, features over 100 artworks by 16 young artists from Chennai.
From streets to canvas

CHENNAI: As I entered the Lalit Kala Akademi on Saturday, I was unsure of what awaited me. Yet, as I wandered through the halls, pausing to admire each painting and model, I realised that those walls were adorned with scenes, places, and frames that resonated deeply with my sense of home. Every year, the talented students of Maisha Studio come together under the guidance of their mentor, Aishwarya Manivannan, to create an exhibition that pushes boundaries and ignites thought. This year’s theme, ‘Local,’ curated by Aishwarya, features over 100 artworks by 16 young artists from Chennai.

She reflects on the importance of selecting a theme that connects deeply with her while also challenging her diverse group of students, aged 13 to 23, to delve into new realms of creativity and understanding. The exhibition series, aptly titled ‘Outside the Lines,’ serves as an educational platform for both the artists and the audience.

The theme ‘Local’ emerged from Aishwarya’s observation of a growing disconnect in our observation skills, heavily influenced by our reliance on technology. She noticed that people often remain unaware of their immediate surroundings while being informed about distant events through social media. For aspiring artists and designers, cultivating a storehouse of inspiration from their environment is essential. This theme encourages students to rediscover their sense of belonging and identity by engaging with their local surroundings.

Aishwarya shares, “For me, it was about pushing them to think about what it means to be local. Does it mean being able to speak a certain language, or does it mean being connected to your environment? Wherever we are in the world, we are local to that particular place and space.”

Familiarising the ordinary

Her love for Chennai, with its vibrant street life and unique cultural essence, deeply influences her teaching. She believes that inspiration lies in the mundane details of everyday life. This belief led her to take her students on immersive experiences around the city. A visit to Kasimedu in North Chennai, where students interacted with fishermen and experienced life at sea, became a transformative journey. The students initially struggled to connect, but as they spent time on the boats, they formed genuine friendships and created meaningful art inspired by these interactions.

“I feel the strength of Chennai lies in this community spirit. Be it Jallikattu protest or the floods, we help each other and pull each other up no matter what, irrespective of our backgrounds. This has been reflected in some of these projects,” she remarks.

The experiences didn’t stop there. A photo walk at Parry’s Corner flower market with the deaf community, led by Srivatsan Sankaran, taught the students sign language and the art of photography. These moments enriched the students’ understanding and appreciation of their environment, encouraging them to seek inspiration beyond their immediate perceptions.

“We’ve all been inspired by each others’ work, and in doing so, we’ve come to gain a deep understanding of everyone’s pieces. We know the thought process behind their work and artistic elements that are unique to them,” say the students of Maisha Studio, emphasising their collaborative approach to bringing their art to life.

A free space

Aishwarya believes in celebrating who we are and where we come from. She recounts how students formed unexpected relationships through these projects, such as the student who befriended an elderly man who sells cool drinks at Marina Beach, and created a painting from their interactions. A key aspect of the exhibition is redefining perceptions of student art.

Aishwarya aims to challenge the notion that age dictates artistic capability. She wants viewers to be amazed when they learn that a 13-year-old created work that is both technically and conceptually sophisticated. “People across every age group have a certain value and relevance. It’s about redefining what student art and design can be,” she asserts.

One standout piece is the vandalism installation, curated to highlight the beauty of the environment juxtaposed with the consequences of neglect. Aishwarya explains, “It is to show how our space is beautiful, what our environment gives us is so beautiful, but we still choose to do that to our space.” This installation aims to shock viewers into recognising their responsibility to maintain the beauty of their surroundings.

Aishwarya draws her teaching philosophy from Yi-Fu Tuan’s quote, “Place is security, space is freedom.” She believes that giving students the space to think, experiment, and express themselves makes them stronger and more dynamic individuals. ‘Local’ is a celebration of community, identity, and belonging, and is a journey into the minds of young artists.

‘Local’ is being held at Lalit Kala Akademi, Chennai till June 20

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The New Indian Express