‘Rural Rendezvous' captures the colourful imageries of village life and unsettling social issues on canvases

Rural India. It's a phrase almost hackneyed in the national lexicon, conjuring images of smiling, gossiping women marching single file while balancing pots on their heads, quaint little village temples and argumentative old men sitting at communal tables. But in truth, this imagery probably has more in common with a commercial from the “Incredible India” series and less with scenes out of real rural life.

The artists exhibiting their works at Art and Soul Gallery have attempted to delve beneath the surface of this rather rose-tinted exterior to represent their view and experience of life in rural India to a largely urban audience. The foundations for Rural Rendezvous were laid in place when Chennai-based artist Jayaraj S was asked to contact a selection of his contemporaries around South India for an exhibition to celebrate Pongal. Two months later, the exhibition was kicked off with an art sandhai featuring folk dancers, live music and markets, bringing a facet of rural life to Chennai while extending the rural experience beyond the canvas.

While examining the exhibition, the first thing I notice is that the subjects of the paintings, brassworks and sketches are mostly female. Jayaraj explains that his upbringing in Tirunelveli exposed him to the suppression and voicelessness of women in rural India, which he has tried to represent in his work by portraying female subjects devoid of the physical feature of their mouths. Disturbing, yes, but it gets the point across.

But women are also highlighted in various other ways. For CLD Gupta, an expression of rural India needs to capture the vibrance and raw vitality of the people and places depicted. His female subjects are therefore painted in vivid tones of green and blue, taking after generations of Indian iconography painters and post-impressionists, his busy, delicately chaotic brushwork almost bringing them to life.

While I'm thrilled to see anybody trying to draw attention to the status of women in today's India, I point out that every one of the artists involved in the exhibition is male — something that I'm told was not planned on purpose. I agree that men should, and hopefully will continue to highlight the oppression of the opposite sex, but I still feel that some female perspective could only nicely round out what each artist is already trying to represent here.

Nonetheless, it's still fascinating to observe how differently each artist has interpreted rural life, imagery and people, each one obviously inspired by his own experience of rural India; JMS Mani's series of paintings portrays the Badami women of Karnataka, while Manohar NS ensures that his association with rural life extends to every aspect of his work by signing each of his pieces with the motif of a goat.

Rural Rendezvous has strived and succeeded in bringing a dash of rural colour to the city, establishing itself as one of an increasing number of installations in the city which attempt to both entertain and increase awareness of underlying societal issues.

The exhibition will be on till January 30 at Art and Soul Gallery, No. 204 A East Coast Road, Akkarai.

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012