Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Nude Earth: Jiji George Draws it

Artist Jiji George
'Strange Sounds from above the Skies' is one exhibition that I would have regretted had I missed it. This ensemble of paintings, drawings and sculptures shows the relentless spirit of a forty two year old Jiji George and his ability to listen to the voices not only from above but also from below, behind, inside and outside. An artist hailing from the sylvan Wayanad district in North Kerala, as the poet would put it, Jiji carries a forest in his heart and mind even if life has been taking him from cities to cities in India ever since he obtained a post diploma in painting from Mavelikkara fine arts college in 1999. Currently the artist works with Infosys establishment in Trivandrum.

Done mostly in black and white, the paintings and drawings of Jiji resonate the ecological anxieties that most of us understand but refuse to recognise as a 'live' concern of our lives. A severed branch of a tree or a felled wood perhaps gives us the idea of a clearing which would soon be turned into a site for some high rise building. The ongoing constructions around us reassure us with safe zones of habitats not even once intimating us with the pains of expulsions and exclusions. In the concrete jungles that the modern men dwell one wouldn't hear the heart rending cries of the expelled that include both human beings, forest and the animal lives. True to the poetic tradition of the world, Jiji listens to these 'silenced' wailings and that silence would haunt us forever once we come face to face with his works.

The mighty ones who construct, the rich ones who inhabit and poor ones who are expelled and all are alike absent in Jiji's works. The silent noises that one hears from above and everywhere are the result of this absence. In Jiji's works what dominates are the images of confined spaces. Each confined space is a defined space by the human beings where the natural movements are refashioned according to the rules of an establishment that is led by avarice. These spaces are seen either from above or from a tilted or tiered angle so that the viewer could see them in their entirety. But sooner than later we understand that the definition of these spaces is done by milling constructed structures. And the next step is recognising the spaces where the constructions are not made. Ironically, the spaces that are left without constructions appear before our eyes as ruptures or wounds giving us this uncanny feeling that leaving some area unconstructed could be something quite unnatural!

Jiji envisions the earth as plots; measured, divided and partitioned pieces of lands. There is a sense of impossibility that manifests in these divisions making the plots almost surreal. In such a scenario Jiji makes some quirky visual proposals by stacking up plots complete with boundary walls, unevenly and calling it 'plots for sale'. The cynicism of the artist gives way to poignancy when he paints the image of an elephant inside a defined plot and titles it 'unknown terrain'. Each work has a poetic edge, a surprise that is commonplace and commonplace visions that masquerade as surprises leaving the viewer in a terrain of ambivalence, mostly about his own relationship with the spaces/plot around him. It's an unexpected reminder of our own living conditions as well; but the artist does it subtly, with minimum arrogance.

I could say more about his paintings but I resist that urge for each work for in its silence contains something that we are instrumental in erasing from the face of the earth. Each work is our handiwork for we divide earth and auction the woods; we tame animals and colonise their lands and resources. We become such hypocrites that we show our concerns off by wearing it on our sleeves and make pageant out of it. Jiji with all his innocence becomes an apostle of nature in a land where such messengers are lampooned and their churches are burnt. Still he writes the requiem for the dying earth; hails it with his heart. Each boundary wall, with that horror of realisation, the artist says, creates the shapes of death and fascism. In 'unusual turn' and 'fragmented reality 2' we witness it.

Jiji's papier mache sculptures are a visual treat. Each work in its sheer whiteness is a stark presence with a foreboding silence. I am so impressed by a sculpture titled 'speaker'; amidst a wood of a leafless trees there is lone chair occupied by a haunting absence. The sculpture titled 'bird's eye view' is a simple topographical spread on the floor but with its vehemence of truth: the division of earth into plots. In 'see-saw' we see a frozen moment where the globe is sawed by a see-saw device with silence and time seated vacantly on each chair. Jiji almost shows his interest to retreat into the innards of nature when he sculpts the work titled 'cave'. This exhibition is currently on at the Vailoppilly Cultural Centre, Trivandrum. A must visit show.

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