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Dystopia - A Mirror on the Wall
- Padma Jayaraj
Photos courtesy: Nemom Pushparaj

August 23, 2022

Nemom Pushparaj
Nemom Pushparaj

Artist, writer, film maker, Nemom Pushparaj is a multifaceted personality, well known in Kerala. As the Chairman of Kerala Lalithakala Academy (2018-2022), he bypassed the pandemic to reach artists in their homes circumventing the usual camps for helping them and for collecting art works for the Academy. DYSTOPIA (Aug 10 - 20), an exhibition of his paintings and sculptural reliefs at Durbar Hall, Ernakulam, is a peep into his work that reflects the concerns of a sensitive, humane, thinking, and caring citizen of India.

The very title 'Dystopia,' created a throbbing anxiety that unsettled my mind. As I moved on from painting to painting, the feeling of unease increased. For, the very purpose of the artist is to throw the viewer out of complacency, out of an utopian dream by a reality check of what is going on around, where and when did the rott stem from.

The word Dystopia connotes a 'perverted inversion of the familiar', which highlights a hidden truth. Hence the artist opens a world of inverted realities to point to the truth, a pictorial idiom where fantasy reveals the fact. And, the viewer feels the shock administered for a wake-up call. We are taken to the mythical times of India, where lay the roots of the present problems, political, social and cultural, the Mahabharata times. They are still strong despite centuries of advancement and association with changing perspectives that have ushered modernity. After a brief spell, we are back to the same old world fuelled by political and social inequities around us. The purpose of the show is to give us a jolt, to shock us out of our non-conformist stance.

A unique pictorial idiom that has stemmed from the fears and fantasies during a prolonged bedridden existence, has shaped the artist's style, which Johny M.L, the art critic calls 'Meta Modern'. Maybe surrealism has been the shaping influence to begin with which the artist has perfected into his "hyper realistic painterly style." There are certain themes that run through the show. One subject is the socio-political realities that the artist brings to light, which is loud and strong in the air.

Denial of Justice by Nemom Pushparaj
Denial of Justice

Justice in the Mahabharata times and the Roman Law that entered the subcontinent in colonial times have swayed our mindset to date. Despite the sense of history, the will of the powers that be, have failed the people of independant India. DENIAL OF JUSTICE is a reality check on the social and political justice despite modernity. The disrobed woman, from Draupati of the epic days to our own times of free India, is still punished by the powers that rule. That the piece of cloth which smothers her, is from the tricolored flag of free India deepens the irony. The balance, the symbol of justice, is placed on the chessboard of political game controlled by a Vulture, the emblem of Imperial Rome. The entire canvass glows in flaming red, the color of blood of the female body, an unflinching red of fire. Where is modernity, equality; whither justice?

TRIAL highlights the theme of justice in the present day light of independent judiciary of liberated India where 'justice delayed is justice denied'. The vulture, the same old symbol is waiting for the dead corpse. The judge mediates between headless Justice and ticking Time as people are killed by injustice. Irony runs through each painting as an underlying strand.
Concerns for Environment, is another theme that is part of the show.

Oasis by Nemom Pushparaj

OASIS is a stark comment on modern architecture, designing dwelling places on sun bleached land. Skyscrapers in distorted, geometric forms conquer and destroy Mother Earth. The green cover, uprooted, is tucked and carried in a pram. Elephants are transformed into butterflies fluttering even in the dark sky.

Progress by Nemom Pushparaj
The Leader by Nemom Pushparaj
The Leader

Here, in those twisted homes live the people of free India. PROGRESS points to the irony of independent India where the headless man walks with a sword in hand, his hands and legs uncontrolled, trampling over the national flag, the symbol of freedom. Mindless freedom is the right to kill, is the message, an irony that points to widespread ruthlessness. Here, THE LEADER, who is headless is concerned with his chair for which he manipulates his sword, the body of the victims are seen beyond the window. Close by the crows take part in the ceremony of death. As he ascends, the floor tiles reminds us of a chess board of multiple colours.

MARGINALISED and THE VICTIM are outcasts in this society and point to the perverted sense of justice and equity in the 'dystopian society'.

Devaluation by Nemom Pushparaj

DEVALUATION with the presence of the clock beside, reveals what has negated the progress made during the freedom struggle in the course of time. Whither has fled the glory of the spiritual aura, the stream that was created by the Buddha in the subcontinent, translated by Vivekananda for the world, streamlined by the Gandhian political philosophy for the subcontinent and reoriented by social reformers like Sreenarayan Guru for Keralites. Time has uprooted the Tree of Progress.

Salesman by Nemom Pushparaj

SALESMAN shows what has happened to our past glory. Their pictures are for sale now. Starting with the Hindu god Brahma,the Buddha, Christ, Marx, Gandhiji, all are for sale, just for decorations on the wall.

The uprooted tree with its one strong root is a repeated image. The gnawing rat will finish it any time. The clock below says, it's a matter of time. Beyond stretches the panorama of an excavated archaeological site, the remnants of a celebrated past, a painful indicater for the present reality.

Dystopia by Nemom Pushparaj

There are two pieces named 'Dystopia' that examines the idea of Dystopia, one a painting and the other an elegant handiwork executed in mixed media. The painting reveals the subconscious mind that carries the mythical and historical stories of cruelty and deceit that are deeply embedded in our subconscious, which fuel the perverted opportunists to grab power, not only in India, but all over the world. The sculpture in mixed media points to the mind of a so called successful man of the present, living amidst us and sharing the realities around. We see the figure of a headless man seated on a money bag, from where the picture of Gandhiji imprinted on the currency note is revealed. Irony deepens as his means of hooking an advocate, a doctor and a common man. The work exposes the irony of money controlling everything from law to healthcare. Nobody is spared from the desolate reality around us. Yet, hope is not far away. Sorrounding the nucleus are seen people fighting back. The artist looks forward to a time that will heal the wounds inflicted since Emergency to the present day on our body politic.

So, despite the harsh realities, hope rises in the heart of both the artist and viewer as we stand in front of the engraving in bronze, PROGRESS, a dream and optimism. Human history has been a march for progress. Yes, the quixotic humour of the artist is seen as we come to the PROCESSION.The traditional biting humour of Chakyar Koothu of Kerala, comes alive as Nemom Pushparaj displays his PROCESSION that carries the Donkey-Ruler not just in India but in different parts of the world.

Shepherd by Nemom Pushparaj

The SHEPHERD SERIES, with its broken clock, cows and calves, flute, near a water body full of lotus waiting for Krishna, is ironically juxtaposed with the man lying buried in a time machine reminding us of Bhishma, of the Mahabharatha on his bed of arrows. Hope, rejuvenating hope, springs as the subcontinent waits for its shepherd. A lyrically cast painting with the dream of hope, is a tribute to the artist's mind, his love of life, his trust in man. In his own words, "I want to build in my works a befitting monument for those who have been wounded and defeated", and hope runs through like a string through his works.

Padma Jayaraj
Padma Jayaraj is a freelance writer on the arts.

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