Kerala a Better Place for Art

The 21st-century Kerala is becoming a better place for art, according to renowned painter-sculptor A Ramachandran.

The state has moved forward by opening itself up to the larger world of art outside its geographical boundaries, but its visual arts sensibility has scope to become more active, the Padma Bhushan-winning septuagenarian said in the run-up to his first-ever show in native Kerala.

Ramachandran, who left Thiruvananthapuram in 1957 to do higher studies in art at Santiniketan, notes that the cultural environment in Kerala those days was not congenial for artists, prompting many talents to leave the state.

“Of late, a few in that generation are getting a chance to exhibit their work back home,” the Delhi-based master observes ahead of his exhibition starting in Kochi on August 11. The 15-day exhibition, being organised by the Vadehra Art Gallery (VAG) and curated by art historian R Siva Kumar of Visva-Bharati University, is a compact retrospective of the artist and will showcase 100 works.

Ramachandran, who has been living in the New Delhi since 1964, recalls that Malayali artists had found it tough to flourish in Kerala even in the first half of the 20th century. “That is how and why K C S Paniker, C Madhava Menon and K G Subramanyan left for greener pastures. The local system was non-supportive.”

He recalls that the situation was “no different” even when he boarded the train to West Bengal. “I knew Kerala wasn’t the place for a serious pursuit of art. While things have changed, there are still miles to go.”

Substantiating his point, the 78-year-old artist notes the magnitude of protest India’s first Biennale faced in its host state of Kerala last year. “The art circles there could not realise the momentousness of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale,” said the native of Attingal downstate, referring to the staunch opposition the three-month contemporary-art extravaganza faced even during its three months run.

Kerala, says the artist who post-graduated in Malayalam, could accommodate new trends in literature and cinema and celebrate the works of modernists such as Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, Vaikkom Muhammed Basheer and P Kesavadev and appreciate G Aravindan and Adoor Gopalakrishnan. “In painting, though, the state got stuck for long in the realistic school of Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906).”

Ramachandran was briefly chairman of the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi in the early 1990s.

Prof Siva Kumar, who has written extensively on modern Indian art, the Kochi show is being curated with a certain chronology in mind. “It will cover his works of the last five decades - from 1964 till that of 2013.”

Delhi-based art scholar Rupika Chawla notes Ramachandran possess a “unique” sense of colours that has kept changing over the years. “There is a moving luminosity in his works.”
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