KOCHI: The flowers are white. The grass is green. The plants are shining. The sky is blue with a couple of floating clouds. A man lies on the ground in a blue vest and black shorts. He looks to be in a deep sleep. A basket and labourer’s tray are placed next to his head. But as you look upwards, in the painting, there is an entire section, almost in a circle, that is painted in a depressing grey. When you look closer, you can see broken laptops, mobile phones, computer and phone appliances. And amid this e-waste, workers in white uniforms and helmets are picking through it. You can see a lorry who has just deposited another batch.
This is the acrylic work of artist Balamurali titled, ‘Grasshopper of Onattukara’. “My native place of Onattukara had a lot of paddy fields,” says Balamurali. “But now all types of e-waste from far away is landing up in our town. And they are being dumped into the paddy fields. As a result, paddy cultivation has gone down. This dumping is taking place all over Kerala.” But Balamurali says that he is happy the government is aware of the environmental damage. “They have set up e-waste collection centres,” he says. “So that is good news.”
Balamurali was taking part in the fourth edition of the Cochin Art Fair. There were 54 artists taking part, out of which 35 are youngsters. Curator O Sundar deliberately decided to give opportunities for the new generation. “There are numerous youngsters practising art these days,” he says. “And the chances to showcase their works are few. So I wanted to help them in some way.”
Harsha Valsan is one such youngster. A guest lecturer at the RLV College of Music and Fine Arts, Tripunithara, she is fascinated by terracotta. In her work, at the bottom of a circular base, there are trees, buildings and human beings. A cylindrical structure ends up in a cloud. Lying on the cloud, chest downwards, and reading a book is a girl, with an upraised right leg. “It is a self-portrait,” says Harsha. “Sometimes, I get into a mood where I would like to be alone, away from people and society. This was a spontaneous creation, something that came from my subconscious mind.”
Harsha did her BFA at the Fine Arts College at Thiruvananthapuram. Thereafter, she completed her MFA from the Sarojini Naidu School of Arts and Communication at Central University, Hyderabad. She dreams of being a sculptor. Her father was in the Army but now he is a businessman. Her mother is a retired teacher. “My family is supportive of my dreams,” she says.
Meanwhile, Jiji Ajith, a mother, is keeping one foot in the art world. She has done an image of an elongated female goat standing on the top of several hills, a leaf in her mouth, with the background of a blue sky with stars. “This is part of a series on goats,” says Jiji. “I grew up in the city. But when I got married my in-laws stay at a place called Kattappana, in Idukki. I noticed that there are a lot of goats in the area. So, during my spare time, I would observe them closely and found them to be interesting characters.”
Unusually, she has placed bangles and necklaces on the neck and the legs of the goat. “That’s because I don’t wear them and have a few with me. So I thought if I am not wearing it, let me put it on the goat.”
As for Babita Rajiv, the Fort Kochi artist always looks at the world with a highly imaginative eye. In her work, ‘Render’, a wooden mooring, in the water, with a rope around it, becomes a woman’s leg beneath the surface. As for the weeds, below the surface, they have been turned into the webbed feet of ducks. The rope has been turned into a fish. Apart from that, she has put in shells, sea anemone and mussels. “There is no message,” says Babitha, with a smile. “I enjoy using my imagination.”
But K R Kumaran is focused on reality in his acrylic on canvas (9’ x 4’), titled ‘Stray Dogs’. He has shown street dogs and cows foraging in the waste which is thrown arbitrarily all over the place by human beings. The land is brown, with gnarled tree trunks, and cactus plants in front, hinting at a sense of desolation. “Whenever I travelled, be it in Kerala or Delhi or Mumbai I would see these dogs,” says the just-retired chief artist of the College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Mannuthy. “I wanted to say that just as human beings, animals should also have a right to the land.”
This is an earlier work, which won, for Kumaran, the National Lalit Kala Akademi Award in 2017-18.
Expectedly, there are many senior artists taking part including one of India’s masters, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, and Kochi Muziris Biennale founder Bose Krishnamachari. Others include Reghunadan K, Pradeep Puthoor, Gopikrishna, Bhagyanath C, Tom Vattakuzhy, Bindhi Rajagopal and Narayanan Mohanan.
“Since there is no theme, all types of styles and thought processes are on display,” says Sundar. The exhibition concludes on August 31.