Biju Cherayath has lived in Cox Town all her life, as have two generations before her. An accomplished artist, she works out of her studio in Cooke Town and also teaches art to children — both things she’s equally passionate about.
In an interview with The Hindu she reflects on Cox Town — its past and present — her art, and why she believes the area is a hub for emerging artists. She says that while things have changed, the area has been able to resist rampant commercialisation, and has been able to retain its “community fabric”.
Q. Many say that Cox Town’s turning into a hub for fresh art talent? Your thoughts.
A. It’s true. Artists and designers are increasingly making the choice to live or work in Cox Town. This is mainly because of the freedom that this area allows you; it is a “live and let live” society. To me, it allows me to set my own pace to my life. The people here are caring, and a notion of sharing still survives within the community. Also, it is a very green and quiet residential area and there hasn’t been any excessive commercial bombarding yet.
What are your earliest memories of Cox Town?
In my childhood, our neighbours took care of us as if we were their own children. This area never really had a sense of hierarchy. Our postman, our tailor, the vegetable vendors, the shopkeepers knew us all; they were a part of our lives for almost 12–15 years. You would never be allowed to feel like an outsider here.
Have things changed much?
Change is inevitable. The core cohesion and values of the area still survive in the community. But today, people have become more reserved and withdrawn. Most of the people earlier lived in independent houses and enjoyed a lot of privacy. With apartments cropping up, privacy and mutual interaction have seen a downturn. We have actively protested against excessive commercial intrusion. On that front, we have quite managed to avoid the demise of our community fabric.
Did you always want to become an artist?
I didn’t choose art, it chose me. I was born to be an artist. Even though my father wanted me to become an engineer and my mother wanted me to become a CA, they knew they had already lost the battle, for, art was my real calling.
What is the philosophy behind your art and your studio?
The art that I create is essentially the crystallisation of a lot of observation of and absorption from the environment around me. I download from the environment, my fingers put in the commands but my brain, like the CPU, does its processing on its own. The various roles I play — a mother, a teacher, a friend — contribute to the hues you see on the canvas, but the painting is only the tip of the iceberg.