Indigo blue pepper vines wind along walls painted white, fruits of cashew, arecanut, water apple and mango peep from clusters of leaves, again all in indigo, while blue flowers bloom in this tropical Eden created by artist Mario D’Souza.
As part of his project ‘Home away from home’, as artist in residency at the Alliance Francaise de Trivandrum (AFT) from November 2 to November 20, the 35 paintings are an ode to the flora of the region.
Red pleated valance, red curtains, a wall painted yellow and coloured pieces of cloth plaited on banana fibre greet visitors to the exhibition. A painting of a hand has pride of place on the yellow wall.
Says Mario: “It is not only an exhibition of my paintings. This is an immersive installation where I make the space a part of the exhibition; a sensory space where past, present and future are juxtaposed. The hand is what helps me transfer what I have seen and imbibed on to the canvas. Home is perhaps the iconography of the show. If we did not have that, neither the knowledge nor its transition can happen.”
A resident of Paris, France, for the last 22 years, 49-year-old Mario says that he does not miss fruits like mango, cashew or banana. “What I miss is the vegetation, the foliage, the greenery of my childhood and the people. Those are my influences in my artistic journey,” he says.
Enchanted by the trees, fruits and flowers that he saw around him, he began capturing those on canvases of different sizes. “My favourite colour is ochre but for the first time, I have used only blue and white in all my works exhibited here,” he says.
The colour blue
His decision to use the colour indigo was based on the special connection between indigo and India. Mario explains, “Indigo is woven into the history of India. It was the colour that made colonisers force farmers to grow indigo and that was the one main exports from India. And it was again indigo that led to the first satyagraha of Gandhi in Champaran in 1917. That’s why all the painting of this collection are indigo on white.”
Some of the paintings of leaves, flowers, vines and branches spill on to the frames of the works, appearing to be breaking out of the rectangular shapes in which the works are enclosed. Pointing out that tropical landscapes do not resemble manicured gardens, he says he wanted his paintings to capture that abundance of tropical growth.
A graduate of Chitrakala Parishath, Bengaluru, Mario left for France on a scholarship after his postgraduation in Fine Arts from MS University, Vadodara. Since 2001, Mario has been living in France and visits India every year.
“What I could not do when I was here, I am doing it now when I am abroad. I can now see the country from a distance and that gives it a beautiful different perspective. I straddle two places. Home is one place, ‘away’ is another place and ‘home’ is yet another place. But it all finally adds up to one home, the place where my heart is,” asserts Mario.
He continues: “Am I a turtle, carrying my home with me? I don’t know. But I know that I am at home in France and in India.”
For Mario, this exhibition is also a result of the time he spent in his flat during the lockdown caused by the pandemic when he yearned for the outdoors. “Drawing is therapeutic for me. I am a nine-to-five artist. If I don’t draw at least four paintings, my day is not done. At five, I go for a two-hour walk and what I see and experience during those two hours inspires my work,” he says.
According to Mario, his emotions – happiness, sadness, loneliness, love - have been invested in each of his works.
Mario is participating in the Kochi Biennale, which begins on December 12. He plans to showcase native food for the Biennale. “My collection will reflect the fusion of food found in and around Mattancherry and Fort Kochi. Also, I want to draw drumsticks, mango flowers and kitchen implements that were used by our grandmothers.”
The artist sees every exhibition of his as an occasion to celebrate and invites people to share that celebration of being.
The exhibition will be on AFT till January 15.