Shaji Appukuttan curates a show that goes back to the brush

An art show, ‘Rustic Footmarks’, curated by artist Shaji Appukuttan, trains the spotlight on painting

Prajaktha Palav’s untitled painting of potted plants on the tin roof of a Mumbai shanty and Devi Seetharaman’s works showing mundu-clad men align perfectly with what Shaji Appukuttan had in mind when he conceived his curatorial debut ‘Rustic Footmarks’ — that art should engage with the regional/personal.

He says, “Both speak of what is immediate. Prajaktha lives in Thane, Mumbai, and she painted the life she saw. Similarly Australia-based Devi’s works are perhaps, from the memories she carries within her of Kerala.”

All the works on show at Durbar Hall Art Gallery are paintings, “Only paintings, because I want to show that painting as an art form is alive. It is important and it can be used to express provincial concerns, which can speak to a larger audience. For example when Van Gogh painted ‘A Pair of Shoes’, he was speaking of the human condition, which resonated with people, the epoch and the milieu,” Shaji says.

Shaji Appukuttan curates a show that goes back to the brush

The Kochi Muziris Biennale, for example, turned the spotlight off painting, and instead focussed on installations, essentially informed by a Western aesthetic, he feels. A need to be international or global, led to an embracing of a Western or European aesthetic which pushed the Indian sensibility to the background. “Nandalal Bose was known for his ‘Indian style’ of painting, which was frowned upon by those who felt Indian art needed to look toward Europe.” That said he has included abstracts in the show.

India has a rich heritage, and history, of paintings which, in Shaji’s opinion, is limited by labels such as ‘traditional’ and/or ‘folk’ art. Warli, Madhubani, or murals, for example, are forms of expression that are socio-cultural and even political. “Madhubani is painted by women — mothers, daughters, wives — who engage with every day life, every day activities. Art is inextricably intertwined with life in our context,” he says.

Shaji Appukuttan curates a show that goes back to the brush

“Yes, the paintings are political; an artist has an important role and cannot work exclusive of society nor can they forget society. Even geography is political — for instance Anil Janardhan’s painting of Munnar. Doesn’t geography then become political even if it is just a landscape? I am a social being too and I set the works within certain socio-political contexts. This is an art exhibition which is also a art movement.”

Shaji Appukuttan curates a show that goes back to the brush

A product of the Government College of Fine Arts, Shaji is a recipient of Kerala Lalitakala Akademi’s State Award in 1992. He went to Shantiniketan for his masters, but left it because it wasn’t his idea of an education. The idea of curating a show came to him just as he was contemplating a solo show. The thought led him to wonder about an exhibition as a space for all artists to show, rather than limit it to himself. The 29 participating artists are friends and acquaintances, who came on board when they saw his concept note, Shaji is also exhibiting.

The exhibition concludes January 31.

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Printable version | Jul 2, 2020 10:16:45 PM |

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