Murali Cherpu’s exhibition of wood reliefs titled ‘Nirvana’ explores the paths to bliss

Murali Cherpu hails from a family of traditional wood craftsmen; his skills with the chisel and mallet honed and handed down for generations. However, the Thrissur-based sculptor has chosen “to step beyond tradition” and explore the unlimited artistic possibilities of relief carvings. His series of wood reliefs titled ‘Nirvana’ is currently on display at the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi Art Gallery, Vyloppilly Samskriti Bhavan.

‘Nirvana’ features 15 reliefs, which are essentially hand-carvings on panels of wood. The artist has succeeded in giving a sort of 3-D effect to the sculpture making it almost like paintings on wood.

The theme of the exhibition is nature and man’s equation with nature, interpreted through several “paths to nirvana (bliss)” such as music, spirituality, love, physical expression and meditation.

“There is a positive side to our relationship with nature; a side that we often tend to forget in the face of man’s continuing shenanigans with nature,” says Murali, who has used the artistic traditions of Indian miniatures, realism and surrealism to get the point across. “I am particularly inspired by the surrealism of Salvador Dali,” says the sculptor.

The most obvious expression of the concept is a series of fluidly etched reliefs on the Buddha, in each of which symbolism is ripe. “There is no better example of man and nature as one than the Buddha,” says Murali. In fact, these reliefs ultimately comes to that conclusion – that “Buddha is nature”. The signature relief of the series (also titled ‘Nirvana’) is one that showcases the Buddha in a meditative pose beneath the Mahabodhi tree. His fingers and toes merge seamlessly with the roots, branches and the trunk of the tree, symbolising our eternal connection with nature. The lotus that arises from the Lord’s navel, meanwhile, symbolises how the positive influences of nature can lead to enlightenment. Another relief titled ‘Ecstasy’ features myriad forms of life drawn to the positive influence that is the Buddha/nature.

These series of reliefs have been done on Kumizh (Gmelina arborea) wood. “Kumizh is very malleable for sculpting. Besides, I like the sandy colour of the wood, which lends the reliefs a soft look,” says Murali.

Meanwhile, the reliefs that further explore the man-nature theme on a slightly darker (literally and figuratively) plane have been sculpted on panels of teak, mahogany or rosewood.

Each panel has been appropriately titled, giving inklings into its depths. If ‘Nostalgia’ and ‘Sweet Memories’ give us a wistful taste of the artist’s rustic childhood – climbing trees, flying kites, sailing paper boats and the like, in ‘Power of music’, the artist has carved waves turning into angles, “alluding to the bliss of the music of the ocean”. And in a couple of reliefs the artist has also “paid homage” to Dali, particularly the carving of a veena that seems to melt in ‘Being the dance’, which alludes to Dali’s classic surrealist image of the ‘melting clock.’

The exhibition is on till January 20, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.