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Illusion and reality of images
- Padma Jayaraj

January 3, 2023

It is chilly outside the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai. Inside the main hall, the tall figure of artist Satyapal was greeting people with a beaming smile. As your eyes wander you feel as if you have stumbled into a strange land of weird beings. It is a world beyond your imagination. Did you see the back of a pied piper from whom emanates an unheard melody that takes a host of beings on the wheels? Beings, who are neither humans, animals, nor birds, yet a crowd of living entities following the piper on the 'Wheels of Time'? They are from that narrow strip of land, Kerala, in southern India, caught between the Arabian sea and the Western Ghats.

Kerala is known as "God's own country" in the tourist circuit. The show, 'Illusion and Reality of Images' (December 12 to 18, 2022) checks the authenticity of the claim from the perspective of a bunch of artists from their homeland.

Painting By SatyapalPainting By Satyapal
By Satyapal

T.A Satyapal, the leader of the group, is a well-known person in the field of art. He was the Chairman of Kerala Lalithkala Akademi for two terms. During his tenure, he brought the tribal art of the entire subcontinent into the limelight, documented Kalamezhuthu, the folk art of Kerala, and edited a number of books on art.

His long sojourn among the tribes of Northern India as a social worker for a decade had introduced him to tribal art. It brought out the artist in him. His unique visual idiom is a byproduct of his association with aboriginal art. The imagery that introduces his thoughts is born of this cornucopia, as ancient as those who lived in the caves whether in India or elsewhere. Neither human, animal, nor bird, they enact an absurd drama for the viewers who are humans.

Painting By Satyapal
By Satyapal

Thematically, his art presents postmodern ideas and the angst of a human being, socialist at heart. The subject matter is the perception of an intellectual, with a sense of history. The theme and the form fuse together in an unbelievable combination that beats all norms. The ground realities are exposed in allegorical and metaphysical modes couched in a rustic aesthetic idiom that evolved over millennia. The puppets on the wheels point to the variegated shades of the content: the angst of an artist, a political critiquing, the verdict of a crusading socialist reformer, and a sensitive human being at heart.

The mixed media canvas is unique and vibrant in range, the perfect backdrop for his earthlings. That the beings move on wheels is an astounding concept connoting historical, philosophical, cultural, and political concepts that weaves the destiny of the Indian subcontinent today. The wheel recalls the wheel in our national flag. The Buddhist wheel of Dharma, engraved on a pillar in Saranath by Asoka, is the symbol of peace and nonviolence adopted by the Indian government. And that the puppets of Satyapal ride on wheels, are steeped in biting sarcasm and irony in multidimensional resonance. Transcending all the created beings in nature, these absurd figures on the wheels enact an absurd drama that haunts our conscience.

Sculpture By Aneesh Nettayam
By Aneesh Nettayam

Aneesh Nettayam, a sculptor, speaks for the farmers who depend on Nature's bounty. The rural folk living in the folds of the western Ghats has nurtured life in sync with the rhythms of nature. The rains, winds, and sunlight are the pointers for cultivation. They made simple tools from available material for cultivation, to live, not for sale, the kind of life they have been leading for millennia. Now with urbanization spreading to these deep villages, the people are forced out of the life they have lived. The profit motive of outsiders destroys a centuries old living style. Those who lived by making tools for cultivation are at a loss to understand this invasion that drives them out of their home and sustenance.

The sculpted figures, made in fiberglass, hugging their tools with vulnerability writ large on their face point to the loss of a vanishing world. The show is critiquing mechanization, urbanization and the consumer cult that destroys age-old culture and wisdom.

Painting By Renjeethlal
By Renjeethlal

The canvass of Renjeethlal is another side of the same coin. The angst of a persona pulsating with rural rhythm, caught in the whirlpool of the mechanized routine of city life. He has recreated his lost horizon reliving his nostalgic memories. His creations are an amalgamation of the realistic and the abstract that suits the theme of contradictions. The artist shares the anguish of the many who feel how the mechanized city life destroys the village in its innocence and simplicity.

Painting By Shiela Kochouseph
By Shiela Kochouseph

Shiela Grace Kochouseph points to the beauty of nature, the flowers that are seen everywhere, anywhere, in the sun and rain that make Kerala God's own country.

Painting By Sindhu Divakaran
By Sindhu Divakaran

Sindhu Divakaran points to multiple levels of socio-political realities in India and environmental issues that result in man-made tragedies across the globe. The Two Goddesses present centuries old repression of Dalits and women in India. The Refugees hark back to the exodus with a sense of history. Her abstract paintings in an inimitable style as if meticulously knitted, point to man's greed in conquering nature. The concept of the Gandhian sense of freedom is woven in the colors of our national flag. The wheel, Asoka Chakra, has cultural and historic resonance and speaks for the entire subcontinent.

Indeed, the exhibition is a pointer to the concern of sensitive artists living in a beautiful, but vanishing green terrain in the subcontinent.

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

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