A heterogeneous group of artists creative people has turned the heritage walls of Mattancherry into a pulsating art graffiti

Brightly coloured art graffiti catches your eye as you walk down the old Calvathy Street in Fort Kochi. This striking curiosity on the history-plastered high walls of Draavidia Art Gallery makes one wonder about the people behind the work. Images of life on this narrow street, busy with spice trade, and rich with the remains of an Arabian past form part of this gigantic work. Enquire around about the makers of this unusual art work and you are led to a group of young artists who call themselves, Backyard Civilisation.

By the distinctive work one knows that unconventionality is their byword. “We are open to all kinds of art and ideas. As far as we are concerned, art is public property and that’s why we are painting the street building. This graffiti works like an open gallery. People come to see this round-the-clock,” says young poet and group member, Latheesh Mohan who has published two poetry collections, Chevikal and Chembarathikal. One of his poems, Pala Upamakalil Manjukalam is part of the MG University MA Malayalam syllabus.

The heterogeneous group of 25 visual, language, sound and culinary artistes believes in a public face of the art process.

They are currently working, in their respective mediums, on three spaces (old warehouses) down the heritage rich Calvathy-Bazaar Road—Bamboo House, Draavidia Art Gallery and the old Kashi Gallery. All these spaces have been renamed Draavidia Gallery 1, 2, 3.

The wall art called, Calvathy Street Project, is led by 24-year-old Shanto Antony from Thrissur. He says, “We have been living here for the past three months and have been observing the lives of the people around us. We took their photos and have painted them.” So there is the Umma who happily interacts with the young group, Khalid the ghazal singer who runs a shop opposite the gallery, the goats that graze around, the birds that perch on the wall… all form a part of the art.

Atmaja Ammi, an artist-curator and participant, is against the idea of a conventional gallery or art space. “The traditional gallery set up is exclusive and keeps the process of art away from the people. Here, they can see the artist at work and realise that it is not an easy job. Actually, a gallery itself should be a piece of art,” she says.

And that’s exactly what the Draavidia Gallery 1 is now, a colourful piece of art.

Interactive art process

Atmaja adds that as expression of artists keeps changing, so does the process. She has held shows across India and says that Malayalis are very sensitive to art and will never miss an opportunity to see it; hence this public interface will generate more response.

Latheesh believes that art practices have changed after the economic boom and it should be more in the public domain.

“We have different kinds of artists working in the group, visual artists, photographers, filmmakers, painters, and the culinary artists. Actually, all of us are united by this art of cooking. We all cook,” says Latheesh, with a laugh.

The group connects warmly over food, their kitchen being headed by Shobin Francis. Shanto makes excellent beef biriyani, the group members disclose. “I look for the distinctive colour combinations in the biriyani,” says Shanto modestly. Laiju Y. from Adoor, who is currently doing his PhD in Film Studies from MG University, is the digital curator of the group. He is working on a photography collection to be exhibited soon.

His group on Flicker, ‘Life In India’, has 2,800 members and 6,000 images in different categories. Saneesh Sebastian from Kottayam is working on a script for a feature film. He is documenting the daily life of the people in Mattancherry and also the activities of the group. The group funds itself. “We work, earn and put aside part of our earnings towards our activities,” says Latheesh.

The poets in the group, led by Latheesh, plan to hold Performing Poetry sessions. “There are many budding poets in Kerala, writing in Malayalam. We call ourselves the New Age Romantics of Malayalam Poetry,” says Latheesh.

They recently held a poetry session, Occha, at Gallery 2 in Bazaar Road where poets Anvar Ali, Kuzhur Wilson, Krispin Joseph, Manoj Kuroor, M.R. Vishnu Prasad and S. Kannan read their works.

A Nigerian poet Efe Okogu too is part of the group. Sitar player Vinod Shankar, who has made Mattancherry his home for the past two years, played on the occasion.

So here is real out-of-the-box art, in a fresh coat of paint.