Taarika John’s ‘The Malayalee Alphabet’ cleverly pictures the sounds, sights and scents of Kerala
Malayalis per se have inspired a sizeable creation of art and literature. Their stories, quirks, responses, habits and attire have all been the muse for sublime literature or slapstick jokes.
Young artist Taarika John celebrates her brethren in a one-of-its kind poster series aptly titled ‘The Malayalee Alphabet’. Listed in alphabetical order and illustrated cleverly are sounds, sights and scents of stereotype Malayalis in all their pride, and prejudices. So Avarachan who loves appams represents A., Chedathy from Chembakara selling chemeen represents C, N is classified by Nasir ikka who loves njandcurry (crab curry), Comrade Shashiettan stands for S, and Zubeida for Z lives near the zoo.
“Zubeida lived near my grandmother’s house which was near the zoo in Thiruvanathapuram. I was there on holidays,” Taarika recalls about her choice of a typical Malayali Muslim woman whom she saw on her summer vacations. These are some of the keen observations of 21-year-old Taarika who began missing the peculiarities of her land, people and culture, once away from home.
As a youngster she was always engrossed in doodling, her line drawings giving shape to everyday characters. “I am a people watcher,” says Taarika who is completing her art studies at Bangalore’s Shristi School of Design.
What began as a lark soon turned out into a serious little project after well wishers began giving opinions and views. After seeing a sketch, an elderly neighbour pointed out a typical piece of jewellery worn by a woman from a particular community. “Such comments made me study each character better, drew me to my culture and people in a way that I had never looked at before.”
The mundu wrap, the Malayali manka, the typicality of the fisherman, the bus driver, the shaape curry, the newspaper boy, the tea shop, etc. these became a fascinating study for Taarika as she worked on the series. The ordinary person tells more of a story, believes the budding artist who streamlined her work while interning in an ad agency, B& B in Mumbai.
Once the series was ready Taarika put her work on Behance a prestigious design website, and soon found, to her surprise, a flood of responses — from Malayalis and others alike. “I was surprised at the responses. People began asking for prints, whether this was for retail and encouraged me to do so.”
And that’s how ‘The Malayalee Alphabet’ came about. It is now available in single prints or as a series, in canvas and on paper.
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