Had T. Murali not taken up the paintbrush, he would probably have become a historian. Not the ‘State-approved’ historian telling stories of the victors, but someone who reclaims the missing pages and brings back the lone voices of protest of the subaltern which were eclipsed from our collective memories.
So, the exhibition of Murali’s paintings ‘Images of resistance,’ which began at the Alliance Francaise on Wednesday, would be of equal interest to art connoisseurs as well as students of history, with an open mind that is. The three paintings of Nangeli, who cut off her breasts in protest against the inhuman mulakkaram (breast tax) imposed by the erstwhile Travancore kingdom, serves as an introduction to his work.
“There were more than hundred different types of such taxes in this kingdom. When we talk now of the immense wealth that they possess, the question of how this was attained is forgotten,” says Mr. Murali, a native of Kannur.
In a case of going beyond his art, he also traced a descendant of Nangeli in present-day Cherthala. He has chronicled the visit along with the paintings, to those who still question the authenticity of the Nangeli legend.
Another recurring theme in his work is that of the wiping away of Buddhist culture and history, which existed in Kerala a few centuries ago. He also questions the celebration of Vamana and also asks why Kollur Mookambika is a ‘silent goddess.’ An accompanying set of photographs show the changes that the idol at Kollur has undergone over the centuries. The architect who lost his hands after the construction of Taj Mahal is also remembered here.
He critiques the idea of a ‘Sarvanjapeedam,’ which he calls a monopoly of knowledge by silencing those who are knowledgeable than the one on the peedam.
Moving to contemporary concerns, he virtually recreates the crime scene of the Sister Abhaya case and also comments on the politics of violence in Kannur, with an evocative image of a man lighting a bomb with a lit cigar. The spaces between the individual paintings can perhaps be seen as the mainstream history, which he cares two hoots about.
The exhibition is on till May 28.