Friday, April 14, 2017

Painters at Thassarack - Translating Khasakk into Visual Art - II

Work by Shaji Appukkuttan

OV Vijayan himself was an artist; a cartoonist. His cartoons have gained a distinct position in the history of cartooning in India for their philosophical bend. Expressionist in nature, in these cartoons, Vijayan portrayed the political realities of his time, analysing and making dispassionate comments on them against the backdrop of India's philosophical tolerance inculcated and proliferated in the society  via various religious renderings including epics, legends and folklore. While most of his contemporaries moved in the path of homocentricism, Vijayan was a loner in the seemingly isolated paths of cosmocentricism that include both biocentricism and eco-centricism. One of the well known critics in Malayalam Dr M Leelavathy was the first to articulate this view vis-a-vis the literary output of Vijayan.

In the first part of this series I have explained how Vijayan becomes a difficult subject to portray. In his cartoons he does not create a subjective witness or a surrogate character who could witness for the artist himself, the way other cartoonists generally do. Instead Vijayan creates 'characterless' 'non-typified' archetypal characters as hapless participants and witnesses. They are so fragile and subject to the historical dynamics that they could be dismembered and deconstructed all by the artist himself dispassionately. Interestingly, like Krishna, the divine character in Indian mythological as well as philosophical discourses, Vijayan too takes an impartial stance and witnesses the self-annihilation of the human beings by their own deeds.

No wonder, the Krishna imagery comes repeatedly in Vijayan's literary works as well as in the cartoons. So we have an enigmatic subject that needs elucidation via adequate visuals culled from his own dispersed self seen scattered within his works. This is the real challenge before a painter or a sculptor when he embarks upon a journey of visualising Vijayan and his works. Each of these dispersed selves of the legendary author seem to contain the totality of the authorial self but the moment the artist tries to grasp it in visual terms, he finds another 'atomised' self seen manifested in another character who looks more meaningful and pivotal. Vijayan seems to repeat the philosophical mantra 'net-netu' (Not this, Not this) for the artist. It is almost like a children's game, 'Catch me if you can'. And artists from Kerala just get involved in this game  with the author of Khasakk. That's what we see in the works/ paintings created by fifteen artists who had been invested to interpret Vijayan's literary oeuvre visually in a week long artists camp held at Thassarack by the Kerala Lalitha Kala Akademi.

Recently when I was listening to one of the discourses by late Swami Nirmalananda Giri, I fondly nodded my head in agreement with him when he said that the claim of Hinduism having thirty three crore gods and goddesses was nothing by the inclusivity of the religion called Hinduism. According to Nirmalananda Giri thirty three crores of gods and goddess were not a conclusive and an overdetermined figure; on the contrary this figure could have been a pointing at the possible number of the people in the world at that time. According to Nirmalananda Giri, had that projection been done today it would have been many billion as per the Indian as well as world population. That means each person in this world has a personal god. In that sense each artist has a Vijayan for himself even if they pick up isolated particles of the scattered self of the author from his literary works.

Work by Balamurali
Shaji Appukkuttan attempts what Vijayan himself wouldn't have dared to do: portraying Vijayan as a character. There have been many photographs on Vijayan and also there have been many illustration about his  personal look. There is a large body of Vijayan's hagiographic imagers taken by K R Vijayan, in Thassarack Vijayan Memorial itself. But all those remain as Vijayan's physical representations in the minimum and glimpses of his latent saintliness in the maximum. In Shaji Appukkuttan's work, Vijayan appears as a saintly figure holding 'Bhagavatam' (once again Krishna connection ) under his arm. We know it isVijayan only because it is seen in the context of Khasakk / Thassarack. But seen out of it, this world could be the portraiture of any saint for all saints are one and one saint is all. However seen in context, this portrait aims to condense all what Vijayan embodied during his life time and after (through his works). Vijayan, as a living cultural saint, whose sainthood was not recognised during his life time for he was not a conformist with the mainstream ideas. Shaji's Vijayan/ Saint stands against the foliage sprouting from heavens and that could be the representation of the banyan tree that travels through time, speaking to Sukanya, the protagonist.

Balamurali approaches the 'Vijayan self' from another angle. Right in the middle of the materialistic din there is this pair of people, the guru and the disciple. Guru is in his benevolent self asking the guy who has submitted himself to the love and compassion of this towering man, to get up. This moment, apparently from Vijayan's 'Gurusagaram' is depicted here as the 'deliverance' of  Vijayan himself from all his doubts. Since the writing of the novel after meeting his Guru, Vijayan had reconciled to all the conflicts and had stood for the cosmocentric world. The idea of 'waking up' as presented by Balamurali should be seen as the wake up call for one and all.

Thassarack /  Khasakk is the setting of Vijayan's first novel ' Khasakkinthe Ithihaasam'. Though that is the case, Khasakk /  Thassarack remains the intellectual / emotional setting of all his novels. Even if the story happens in a conflict ridden Delhi, ( Pravachakante Vazhi), the reader sees Kunjunni, the protagonist walking through the immense landscape of  Thassarack /  Khasakk where the souls fly around as dragon fires carrying the memories of dinosaurs. That is the reason why the artists cannot yet move away from Vijayan's landscape ; that too is the essence of his self and it becomes the self of the  artists who attempt to portray Vijayan's literature in visual terms.

'Njattupura' the small house of a farmer which was rented out to Vijayan's sister is mid 1950s, as she had gone there as a teacher in the village school and from where Vijayan had confronted his ideological and existential issues, has now become a mythical house which has a real manifestation in Thassarack. Against the fields where tall palm trees stand like the castles of the mighty beings and the invisible harbingers of death and ill-omen, this clay house with tiled roof stands alluring the visitors back to those days when Vijayan himself had sat there looking into the space counting the starlets.

Work by Sajeesh PK
Sajeesh PK recreates the Njattupura on his canvas, modelling the same on the real Njattupura. The artist, ins sincere desire to capture the feel of the house as depicted in the novel has taken his own freedom to re-render it the way he has 'felt' it while reading the novel. Hence in Sajeesh's work, we have a Njattupura which is real and unreal at the same time. When it comes to Sunil Vallarpadam, he leaves the Njattupura aside and goes to the bus stop / village setting where the protagonist of the novel, Ravi alights from the bus. This place is called 'Koomankaavu'. This magical place leads Ravi to Khasakk. In Ravi's vision, Khasakk takes a different form and shape and meaning. Fantasy and the apparent reality mix themselves up to create a philosophical concoction that would lead him to the self realisation. Sunil Vallarpadam with his feverish brush strokes captures the essence of Koomankaavu.

Work by Sunil Vallarpadam
Sexual desire plays an important role in Khasakk. Ravi himself has gone through both sacred and profane love affairs and sexual relationships. However by the time he comes to Khasakk, he no longer desires any woman. The village beauty, 'Maimuna' becomes a subject of study for him. He even feels fatherly affection for Kunjamina, another innocent character. There is a very potent relationship existing between 'Naijamali' and 'Maimuna' which is accepted and objected by the village alike. In the dream of the lovers, Arabic horses come and carry them off to distant lands. But there is always the boundaries of religion and social ethics that prevent the dreams turning into reality. In this drama of love, Naijamali and Maimuna enthralling the readers the way they enthralling Ravi.

Work by Sunilal TR
In Sunilal TR, we see a Naijamali, let me add, in an unprecedented fashion. Here is a guy who is a dandy in the village sense. He is like a king in a playing card. He is not the 'Naijamali' that Vijayan had in his mind. Here is a Naijamali conjured up by Sunilal TR from his perspective and 'this' Naijamali does disappoint the viewer. Had Vijayan seen it he would have given a compassionate smile to him for showing a self that he thought never existed in him.

Work by Maupassant Valath

Work by Thakbacker

Venu KB extracts Maimuna from the narrative and makes her the witness of all what is going on around her. That space is not just occupied by Vijayan/ Ravi. In Venu's work, what we see is a sort of thwarting the authorial male and giving that space to the woman protagonist. It is not from the dream of Ravi/  Vijayan that she sees her dream, but Maimuna dreams and in it come up other characters including the author. In their own ways, two artists, namely Tajbacker and Maupassant Valath have attempted to bring out a feminine Khasakk. As we know that there was no woman artist in the camp, these feminine interpretations become all the more important and ironically would serve as a plank to start a counter debate by the feminist women artists of Kerala.

Work by Venu KB

Work by Akhil Mohan
Akhil Mohan's work comes from two strong verbal imageries that Vijayan had created in Khasakk. He writes about the wind passing through the palm fronds. The other imagery is the flock of dragonflies that fly up. They re the souls of people who had existed here on the earth. Similar imagery could be seen in the novels of M Mukundan too. Akhil Mohan picks up these two imageries and combines them into a single pictorial format. This work demands at least a cursory familiarity with the novel to connect as the work does not show any narrative to be read out.

Work by Sajeesh K
Appukkili is the living soul of Khasakk. A soul does not have beginning or end. Neither does it manifest through sensory perceptions. It is a state where the seer-seen-seeing become one and the same. In the soul no dualities exist. Appukkili being the soul with a distorted body (like Ashtavakra who learnt the vedas from his mother's womb therefore cursed  into deformity), does not differentiate between  crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion. He exists as the soul of Khasakk. Sajeesh K portrays Appukkili as a theatrical character who exists on a platform that lies between two time periods: the present and the past. The artist suggests that Appukkili does not exist in time. If anybody is omniscient, omnipresent and immortal in Khasakk, it is Appukkili as we see in Sajeesh's work.

Work by Pramod Kurumpala
In Indian mythology, the peacock is the mount of Lord Muruga, who is the commander of all the heavenly armies. At the same time he is the one who gave wisdom to his own father Lord Shiva. Considering the vehicle / mount of the Indian Gods and goddesses, we could see them representing the biological cycle. Peacock is the representation of divine sexuality. In the western view, it is the embodiment of vanity. But in Khasakk, Maimuna speckled by a peacock. It is the expression of a covert sexual desire latent in Khasakk as a village, not in Ravi or Naijamali alone.  Pramod Kurumpala looks at such imageries created by Vijayan in his other literary works and sees it as a cosmic cycle, without really representing Khasakk as a land. Another artist Prakasan KR too uses this 'peacock' imagery to give an eternal edge to the land of Khasakk.

Work by Prakasan KR
Hareendran Chelad and Sajith Puthukkalavattom are two artists who have looked beyond Khasakk along with Balamurali and Pramod Kurumpala.  Hareendran, like Balamurali creates a world of chaos in his pictorial frame and then paints machines taking away all the biological forms to somewhere else. In Vijayan, towards the end of his literary career we see the cosmic centrism where life form exists beyond earth as the machines made by men and the machines that made the men become the rules of the earth. So here Hareendran creates a spiritual as well as virtual exodus from one existence to a subliminal existence.
Work by Hareendran Chelad
Sajith Puthukkalavattom picks up one of the very poignant stories that Vijayan had written. Titled, 'Kadal theerathu' on the seashore, in this story, Vijayan narrates the story of Vellayiyappan an old father whose son is about to be hanged in jail. From Palakkad, Vellaiyiyappan goes to the jail with a packet of home made food/rice. But the jail officials do not allow him to feed his son. Outside the high walls of the jail waits for the appointed time. Once that is finished, Vellayiyappan walks to the sea shore and gives the food to the crows. The pathos of the story lie in the fact that it is the who is supposed to feed the crow-spirits after a father's death. Here things turn around:  Sajith captures that moment of the father who goes to the jail with all hope, even the hope of his son coming out of the gallows alive. Sajith is successful ingesting the moment with all its weight, silence and sorrow.

Work by Sajith Puthukkalavattom
Kerala Lalitha Kala Akademi  has given all these works to OV Vijayan Smaraka Samithi in Thassarack. But the gallery / auditorium, where these works are to be exhibited is devoid of any kind of display facilities. There is no temperature control to withstand the parching heat of Palakkad.  If the authorities do not give attention in preserving these works, in less than a year these works will start disintegrating. Besides, the Kerala Lalitha Kala Akademi  should take these works to other cities and villages and exhibit there. As the Akademi has an exhibition bus, these works should be taken around from one end of Kerala to the other end before resting them permanently in Thassarack /  Khasakk.

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