Art

Art in a Chennai rail museum

The Chennai Rail Museum plays host to the works of nine artists and seven sculptors who are participating in a camp curated by artist Thejomaye Menon

When I enter the Chennai Rail Museum, the first thing I notice is artist Shyam Verma, bent over his canvas. The acrylic painting is cinematic; a woman porter looks pensively at an approaching train. Her eyes convey pathos and expectation all at once. The painting was inspired by a porter he met in a Lucknow railway station.

Verma was part of an art camp held by the museum last weekend. This is the seventh and features acrylic and mixed media works. Unsurprisingly, the theme is that of train journeys: coaches emerge out of thick foliage, there are hilarious snapshots from a day in the life of an Indian family inside a train (Biswajit Balasubramanian) and train lines run zig-zag, punctuated by clusters of metal buttons representing cityscapes (Aishwarya Manivannan).

Art in a Chennai rail museum

These works are to become a part of the permanent artscape of the museum. S Mani, the general manager of Integral Coach Factory says, “Railways are a microcosm of the Indian way of life. Just look out of the windows, and you will see various emotions. It is a scene that never fails to inspire an artist.” The idea to hold a camp sprang from this perspective. “The idea was to create an evocative piece of public art, with the support from the artists and the welders of the coach factory.”

Art in a Chennai rail museum

Outside the museum, which shares space with the Integral Coach Factory, are the sculptures made by seven artists out of scrap materials from the factory that manufactures rail coaches. The scene has a biennale-like ambience. My eyes immediately catch Ilango AV’s Chuckoo Chuckoo Train; it takes me back to my childhood. The installation depicts three children running through a meandering path in a line, imagining they are a train. “This is designed based on my linear language of visual expression,” says the artist in a note below his work.

Art in a Chennai rail museum

A work of Thejomaye Menon, the curator of the camp, called Threshhold, features train doors, with two people leaning on to it. It stands as a metaphor for life’s experiences. Artist Chelian’s work is a 20-feet-tall portrait of a woman at the entrance of the museum. Another installation of his has an archaic image of dusky Indian lady holding a yazh (harp) made of bronze wirings, chains, screws, nuts and bolts.

Art in a Chennai rail museum

Artist Asma Menon has presented a sculpture called Tree of Life, made of mild steel and mosaic. The tree is perched on a turtle that forms the base of the entire sculpture. “I enjoy seeing the beautiful side of things. I really do not understand angst,” says the jovial artist. All of them have worked with the staff of the Integral Coach Factory and the experience has been a revelation, says Menon. “When you take a walk around this place and see these men working, you will understand the work that goes into making a coach. I will never look at the coaches the same way again.”

Art in a Chennai rail museum

An extraordinary outcome of the camp has been the interaction between the coach factory staff and the artists. The former has been helping the latter with finding the right scrap materials from their work space, and the latter in turn filling their daily life with art. The staff volunteer to take me around the campus for a guided tour of the installations. Some even delve into complex art interpretations. “This represents the power of life . The tree signifies life energy,” says an employee pointing to Menon’s installation.

Art in a Chennai rail museum

As you leave this surreal space filled with welders, toy train coaches in the museum park and workers engaged in the humdrum of the manufacturing process, the words written beneath Asma’s installation catch your eyes: “Scrap is the medium of expression, reminding one and all that discards also have many a role to play in our planet.”

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 9:47:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/art-in-a-chennai-rail-museum/article24151865.ece

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