While entering the first floor of the Aspinwall House in Kochi one can hardly miss a gigantic structure made up of terracotta tiles stacked together at one side. Though for a normal looker it might just be two stands of tiles put in a slanting position face-to-face, but at close quarters, it will be more surprising to notice small figurines of yogis indifferent postures on the tiles.
This simple and subtle work presented by L N Tallur speaks about the two hundred year-old history in a contemporary style. One's amusement also grows with the knowledge of knowing that the tiles used for the art work are specially picked from the tile factories of Mangalore. Ask this Karnataka born artist, whether he got the muse for such an installation from Kerala or Karnataka, he says, “When I came seven month ago to Fort Kochi to research on the biennale sites, one thing that I noticed common in here and Mangalore is the use of tiles in buildings. In Fort Kochi one can still find various structures having tiles on the roofs. And as Mangalore has always been famous for its tiles, I chose to use the Mangalore tiles for my work.”
Tallur's decision to use the Mangalore tiles was not a random decision, but a crystalline vision unraveling the 200 year old history of Basel Missionaries that worked here. “I got a chance to read the manuscripts by German Missionary and linguist Herman Gundert. From the archive collections I came to know that these German Missionaries' (set in and around Calicut) had set their tile factories here and thereby industrialised the region. Also another proposition put forth by the Basel Mission was that if anyone wanted jobs in the industries then they have to get converted to Christianity. So through my work I wanted to connect both history and politics,” says Tallur who currently lives and works from South Korea.
Tallur's works famous for amalgamating Indian signs and symbols in accord with bringing an element of surrealism are often thought-provoking too.
His current work titled 'Hatha Yoga' also is a symbolic reference to the yogis who performed extreme yoga centuries ago. “The yogis are inspired from the figurines in display at Bhau Daji Lad Museum. The specialty of Hatha Yoga is that one goes to extremes of yoga to prolong one's lifespan. And taking the case of terracotta, it gets the strength when it is moulded in extreme fire,” says the artist who took 10 days to compile together this work which is about 90 feet long and 25 feet in height. “Around 4,500 tiles were required to finish this installation,” adds the artist who was awarded a scholarship from Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, to complete Master’s in Contemporary Fine Arts in 1999.
Ask Tallur what difference he could find in Kochi-Muziris Biennale when compared to other international fares, he says, “It is a great experience. It is amazing to notice how the concept of global art is reworked in Indian context. An artist excels when he grows from what he has in hand.”