KOCHI: It’s the world of the feminine and subaltern, frames that deconstruct the accredited. A Case of Femme, T Murali’s series of paintings, makes a scathing attack on mainstream cultural and visual representations that celebrate the ‘savarna’. With a startling naturalism, he presents the story of the ‘other’, the tone and texture of mixed media accentuating the effect.
His ‘Glorified Slavery’ series is in fact the most searing critique of the dominant culture. It shows a blindfolded Nataraja lost in his cosmic dance while stamping on a dark figure, both of them surrounded by the symbols of Brahminic hegemony. It refers to a pathological social conditioning where the subaltern willfully accepts and revels in his subservience. In another work the same dark, dingy figure crawls with a methiyadi on his back. The lotus blooming out of his tail and the colour of legs beside him articulate volumes about psychological oppression and manipulation.
‘Nangeli’s Sacrifice’ is marked by a morbid finesse as she starts slicing her breasts in an act of unflinching rebellion. With a bloodied sickle she challenges ‘mulakkaram’, a form of castist oppression and subjugation. In another frame she offers it before the feudal representatives on a plantain leaf, complete with a traditional nilavilakku. In the third one she looms large with her severed breasts as a diminutive Sree Padmanabha lays beneath. The picture has a persuasive eloquence as it depicts her in a higher rank than the guardian lord of Travancore.
With an acerbic fierceness Murali’s works dissect and reject certain myths and constructs. His ‘Silent Goddess of Kolloor’ shows how the Jain iconography was sidelined by modern idols that eventually hijacked the original. It shows the idol passing through a process of transformation and finally the ornate image of the goddess taking over the original. ‘Sarvajnapeetom - Monopoly of Knowledge’ has Sree Sankaracharya staring at a heap of severed tongues placed in front of him in a plantain leaf. Murali’s Parashuraman is not a glorified sage, but a blood-thirsty warrior blinded by fury; his ‘Sree Krishna’ an ordinary cowherd devoid of any aura of divinity.
There are a couple of works in which Channar Revolt, an important event in the cultural renaissance, is recorded. ‘Channar Woman’ has a group of men disrobing a woman in public and in another she lays stripped and crushed. Similarly ‘Ancham Purayile Andarjanam’ or ‘Smarthavicharam’ zooms into a barbaric ritual that victimise women.
In his ‘Lakshman Rekha’ Sita sits clad in a burqa and the rekha is drawn using a machete. The spider man crawling off the wall forms a weird contrast as we realise all except virtual reality is cut off from her world.
‘Indian Blindness’ is another work that fiercely attacks the system. It dissects the anatomy of a malicious social structure and the frame is strewn with explicit motifs and symbols. It evaluates the integrity of a society controlled by contrasting ideologies that leave no space for peace. ‘Manalan’ points to another primitive custom where teenage girls are trained to be courtesans.
The artist fast forwards to the present time in ‘Shambuka Moksham’ and ‘Abhaya Moksham’. Shambukan’s face resembles the victim of Kerala’s most controversial political killing and Abhaya still remains in a filthy well. ‘Violence a Tradition’ has a Gandhi portrait stuffed in between two taxidermy animal heads. The work also features all scared texts of Hinduism along with firearms hinting at a culture that celebrates and glorifies violence.
Murali’s ‘Taj Mahal’ is no symbol of love, but the memoir of a fascist ruler who chopped off the sculptor’s hands. If ‘Childhood’ is a snapshot torn out of a nostalgic memory, ‘History of Kerala’ is collage that constitute the cultural scape of Kerala. The exhibition is on till My 28.