The Worldliness of Compassionate Art: Alapuzha as the New Art Hub

An installation featuring the light house at Alapuzha in the Lokame art show

The World is One Family, an art show at Alapuzha that began in April 2021; curated by Bose Krishnamachari the leading artist and curator, and one of the pioneers of the Biennale movement in Kerala is a dexterous and detailed depiction of contemporary art in Kerala. Five heritage monuments of the colonial era in the city in and around Vellapally suburb are renovated to feature the vibrant and diverse expressions of the young artists of Kerala in an ingenious way.

After the success of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the artful curator and his team have moved south to Alapuzha or Aleppey to bring the art world’s focus to this old port town by the Arabian Sea. History, culture, society, heritage, and art are brought together in an unprecedented and illuminating way here.

Metal sculpture by K S Radhakrisnan at Port Museum, Alapuzha art show

It is a truly contemporary, futuristic, and commendable act in the pandemic for the artists and the general public. The Kerala Government that is part of its organization must step in to make it more useful and popular with the local people of Alapuzha. Because of the lockdown, the public entry is restricted now. The opportunities to open it up for the people are to be devised and materialised.

At the same time, it also raises many questions on the representation, presentation, inclusion/exclusion, and showcasing of art in a democratic world, especially in the context of historic over-representation and gross monopolies in art, culture, academia, media, public service and politics in Kerala by the historically advantaged elites. The very concept and keyword of Taravadu is a contested category as it is derived from the elitist high culture of Kerala often notorious for social exclusion, power monopolies, and subtle and invisible casteist hierarchy operated in aesthetic sophistication and clinical precision.

As the elite exclusionary culture is often associated with the notion of the safe soil and reinforced raised ground of Tara and Tarakkoottam or Taravadu the people’s culture is often associated with toponyms and geo-cultural tags like the Chery or Pally that are keywords of culture in the whole of South India, derived from ancient Pali and Tamil, dating back to the Sangam culture and Asokan missionary age the foundation of Kerala’s composite culture. The very part of the city that houses the old Coir Corporation buildings is known as Vellapally the ancient seat of a white Vihara like Kadakarapally to the north associated with Itty Achudan Vaidiar. This enlightened people’s culture has recreated the modernity and renaissance of Kerala in the wake of European colonial intervention in the 19th century.

E G Chitra’ sculpture in Alapuzha art show

Art practice, performance, and art curation need to be more egalitarian, ethical, inclusive, compassionate, and sensitive to the cultural history and regional manifestations of culture at the grassroots levels. The micro-politics of culture must be reflected in art and its representations.

There are multiple works by women artists on the politics of gender and gender hierarchy and inequality from the context of Kerala, that are to be appreciated. But that much intensity or accent is not given to the much more entrenched issue of social hierarchy and caste inequality which is the rooted form of hegemony and violence in India and Kerala, when caste walls, wells, schools, roads, and even brutal caste killings are coming back as in Kevin Joseph murder at Tenmala and Aneesh at Tenkurisi in Palakad in recent times.

In a state where even daily waged working women are able to hurl casteist abuse at an aged and male Chief Minister in public as in the infamous episode of Mrs. Mani Pilla abusing Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan with a casteist slur in public on camera during the 2018 Sabarimala Viswasi riots; we must realise and address the crucial issue of caste and its material and symbolic violence in art and politics in truthful ways. It proves that caste is much more deeply inscribed in the body politic of Kerala and India than gender or class.

From the Alapuzha art show 2021

Such pertinent and rudimentary socio-cultural and political issues are to be represented in an art that is socio-politically sensitive, egalitarian, and democratic. Such awareness of the world makes it worldly and compassionate. Art gains transformative powers and values in society only through such a keen sense of truth and justice rather than mere cliched aestheticism and esoteric idiom.

Anyway, it is a great effort and opportunity and a creative beginning for the aspiring and practicing young artists of Kerala, who are working locally and also globally in myriad ways for a more wholesome and brave new world. Salutes to Bose and his team for this visually engaging act of worldliness and compassion.

Dr Ajay S Sekher

ajaysekher@gmail.com +919895797798

image/carnage: visual, violence, other – a group exhibition of paintings by ajay sekher and chitrakaran t murali

We welcome all to our group show image/carnage at Durbar Hall Art Centre, Kochi from 18 to 22 September 2013.  It is a visual exploration into the material and symbolic violence in our society.  The politics and semiotics of othering are also touched upon by the paintings.  Prof M K Sanu inaugurates the show at 5.30pm on 18 September 2013 in the presence of cultural and human rights activists, writers and artists from all across Kerala.  The group show is dedicated to Dabholkar and K V Shine.

image/carnage poster by t murali
image/carnage poster by t murali

Theme Note

On the Other, Carnage and the Visual

This group show titled image/carnage presents the recent works of Ajay Sekher and T Murali.   The paintings are mostly done in the medium of acrylic on canvas.  They deal with the themes of othering and symbolic violence in our society.  Murali’s works explore the trajectory of hegemonic material violence in the tumultuous contexts of the cultural history and social formations in Kerala.  He has painted the historic moments of subaltern revolt  and resistance in south Travancore as in Channar Woman and also vividly depicted the mutilations and genocidal violence done on the body and bio power of the Avarna women in Kerala by casteist patriarchy for almost a thousand years in the establishment of the Hindu Brahmanical caste system and its feudal patriarchal order here.  His works also make visible the repressive violence and representational dilemmas involved in the traditionalist and elitist iconography of our prevalent world view and common sense.   A scathing critique of popular religion and dogmatic faith in metaphysical and obscurantist discourses of the dominant order is also evident and visible in Murali’s vivid visual idiom.

The works of Ajay Sekher  divergently enact the micro operations of power and hegemony in subtle and allegorical ways.  His works illuminate the representational modes of demonization and animalization in contemporary politics of culture in Kerala and India at large.  The works dramatically enliven and critically comment on the politics of symbolic and representational violence and stereotyping of the minor and the marginalia predominant in Kerala mainstream discourses and the increasingly elitist public sphere.  An imaginary, symbolic and iconological exploration into the erased past and repressed collective unconscious of Kerala is also imminent in the works.  The works also try to signify the common and shared visual imagery and motifs deeply embedded  in south Indian visual culture in its rudiments. 

image/carnage catalog outer by t murali
image/carnage catalog outer by t murali

Both the artists engage seriously with the contemporary idiom of visual arts and try to represent the struggle for a new visual language and expression from within the realm of the sign and the visual codes of local culture.  In this sense the works are contemporary and vernacular at the same time.  Contemporary in the sense of the themes and socio political issues presented and vernacular in the nuances of cultural location and signification.  Through the depiction of the local and the vernacular they are also trying to resist the Meta Narratives of the Nation and the hegemonic and oppressive cultural logic the Nation State in particular.  By foregrounding the human and the ethical within the minor and other these works  resist the reinstatement and deification of local cultural elitism and neo Nationalisms or dominant religious revivalsims of the regional sort. 

These fragmented visual articulations and collective little cultural acts are done in the context of the rise of cultural nationalism and pro fascism in India in the form of pseudo majoritarian Hindutva right wing chauvinism.  The explosions and Rath Yatras are on for the 2014 Loksabha elections.  The experiences of M F Husain, Shivaji Panikkar and the recent incidents of vandalism in Ahmadabad art gallery explain the crisis and the undisputed visibility of the symptoms of the rise of fascism proper in our country and society.  The Parivar is also eyeing Kerala to open its account.  Narendra Modi was welcomed in the abode of Narayana Guru who upheld the human above the religions by the Hinduized official heads of his Dharma Sangham.

image/carnage card by t murali
image/carnage card by t murali

 The present show is dedicated to Mr Narendra Dabholkar and Adv K V Shine.  Dabholkar the rationalist social activist of Maharashtra was exterminated by the right wing fascists for questioning religious superstitions and for disseminating reason and scepticism among the people.  Adv K V Shine a cyber cultural activist and the first cyber martyr of Kerala was pressurised so much that his precious life was lost in a heart arrest following a police case and prolonged harassment propelled by a Savarna Hindu caste organization and its patriarchs.  The former feudal lords even misused the state apparatus and the police to suspend Shine from his government job.  Cultural policing, elitism and Savarna chauvinist repression are growing day by day in the public sphere and public service of Kerala and in all walks of life as part of the coming of age of Hindutva Savarna fascism across the country.   As neo nationalisms and patriotic elitisms have appropriated and monopolized the image in genocidal violence;  it is very important to deconstruct the semiotics of repression and carnage and formulate the resistance in and through the realm of the visual.

M K Sanu making the inaugural speech on 18 Sept 2013 at D H Hall Kochi, Gallery E
M K Sanu making the inaugural speech on 18 Sept 2013 at D H Hall Kochi

spectators at D H Kochi on 18 sept 2013 during the inaugural speech.
spectators at D H Kochi on 18 sept 2013 during the inaugural speech. The kid of K V Shine in the middle.

 

Emerging poet Swati and family from Mavelikara at the show.
Emerging poet Swati and family from Mavelikara at the show.