Customs, traditions and performing arts of Kerala are rendered in Triveda Fine Arts' unique venture. Aslam Shaikh, born and brought up in Kolkata and now based in London, saw Kerala through the eyes of Nina and her young son Krishna.

Though London-based Aslam Shaikh's first solo show in India is called “Sacred Made Real”, the title of “Kerala Celebrated” could have worked for it equally fine, albeit a bit direct and simple. Organised by Nina Pillai's Arts and Auction House, Triveda Fine Arts, the exhibition, after all, is an obeisance to the God's Own Country. And how?

In his 20 acrylic laden, 12 feet canvases, Shaikh tries to entice viewers through various performing art traditions of Kerala — Pulikali, Kathakali, Theyyam, Mohiniattam and Koodiyattam. The repertoire goes on to include temples, village womenfolk and gods and goddesses.

The exhibition opens only for a day at The Oberoi on August 19. The opening itself, Nina promises, will be a spectacular event with chenda players, Kathakali dancers and guests wearing traditional mundus, gold-bordered saris and angavastrams.

Shaikh, born and brought up in Kolkata and now based in London, saw Kerala through the eyes of Nina and her young son Krishna. Taking one through the works displayed at her palatial house in Anand Niketan, Nina, the show curator, says, “I never felt that the true essence of my home State Kerala has ever been captured by any artist. I didn't want the same old coconut trees, boats etc…To people outside, everybody down South is a South Indian. To create an identity, I wanted an absolutely fresh imagery.” So, Nina and her son showed him photographs and videos on Kerala and told him various myths and legends associated with various festivals and how they are celebrated. Shaikh stayed put at Nina's house and created the body of work under their guidance.

“For instance, I told him about Heramba Ganesha, another form of the Elephant God popular in the South. There is very little information about it on the Net and he created the Ganesha riding a tiger. The God has a golden aura and also carried a bow but taking artistic liberty, Shaikh has made the tiger's tail in the form of a bow,” says Krishna. The works abound in dynamism, energy and movement.

Elsewhere too, Shaikh has given artistic twist to the traditional theme without being irreverent to the culture or the religion. “For his work of Lord Vishnu meditating on Sheshnag, he shows goddess Lakshmi residing in his heart or in the ‘Pulikalli', where he has portrayed a Kathakali dancer exiting the scene for Pulikalli dancers to take the centre stage. The work follows the canvases he has made on Kathakali.” Pulikalli is a popular folk dance form, in which men dress up as tigers and perform during Onam in Thrissur. “While yellow and white are the dominant colours, he has done a monochrome. As an art restorer, he has handled all the masters. His bold lines, and how he first creates the figures with charcoal, aggressive strokes, all this are linked with that skill,” says Nina who is taking the show to Mumbai's Jehangir Art Gallery in August next year.