Showcase: The ongoing ‘Traditional Paintings' exhibition is both aesthetic and innovative.

In the past few decades, women from ‘paramparik' craft families have been increasingly engaged in significant artistic processes, a role which was traditionally denied to them.

The women of the ‘sthapathi' families of Mahabalipuram, a centre of stone sculpture since the Pallava times, are emerging as artists of considerable merit - from the role of being mere background ‘sketchers' of temple forms and figures to aid their menfolk's creations, to becoming artists in their own right.

Creative artwork

Their traditional sketches, which were generally replicas of the sculptures in the Mahapalipuram temple complex and other religious icons and themes, have been honed by formal art training. Further embellishment on the artwork has led to a new genre of art that has opened new windows of creativity and economic opportunities for these women.

Over 100 women from Mahabalipuram, whose families are traditionally sculptors, have been trained by the CP Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation in drawing and painting.

Says Prema Srinivasan, an alumni of the Mahabalipuram School of Art and Architecture, “The training was done with the help of the Tamil Nadu Government and the ex-principal of the Mahabalipuram School of Art and Architecture. Twenty girls are already doing advanced training. The different types and forms of ‘Yaali', the motifs and so on are all taken from the pillars of Mahabalipuram temples. Nandita Krishna enhanced the embellishment with ‘kundan' and crystals to add a touch of aesthetic richness and to make the paintings more saleable, apart from providing the girls with economic opportunities. The girls do the artwork and I do the embellishment which is a delicate process.”

The artwork done on handmade paper with water colours has a mellow feel. The twinkling ‘kundan' and crystal add a special glitter and a sense of drama. They resemble the 19th century oleographs. Yaalis of different styles have been translated from temple walls with great finesse. The most interesting visually is the yaali form incorporating the characteristics of five animals – the elephant's trunk, tiger's nails, bird's feet, lion's body and pig's teeth. The composition is mellow because of the colours and kundan work. There are many yaalis to choose from, such as Siva in his anthropomorphic form in different hairdos as well as lotus and animal motifs.

The standing Vishnu and Krishna catch the eye with their glittering ornamentation and embellished clothes, while a pretty ‘hamsa' in psychedelic colours captures the spirit of this simple, graceful and innovative art form.

The ‘Traditional Paintings' exhibition at Vennirul Art Gallery, CP Arts Centre, 1, Eldams Road, Alwarpet, concludes on January 9.