Art

Chess Olympiad mascot Thambi gets a macho makeover

The newly painted facade of the Tamilnadu Urban Habitat Development Board

The newly painted facade of the Tamilnadu Urban Habitat Development Board | Photo Credit: RAGU R

A ride down Kamaraj Salai never disappoints. Flanked on one side by the expansive Bay of Bengal, and on the other by Indo-Saracenic markers of time, the stretch is a window into the city. Now with Mamallapuram being host to the recently-concluded Chess Olympiad, Thambi’s presence is inevitably called for on Beach Road. Not just as mannequins and figurines, but on large facades as well. The latest building to be graced by Thambi’s presence, is the Tamil Nadu Urban Development Board. While the beloved mascot with rolled-up sleeves and a hero’s stance grabbed eyeballs, the other end of the building, masked by scaffoldings, hosted a more familiar side of Thambi. 

With arms folded in a namaskaram, Thambi, in his signature veshti bids adieu to the Olympiad that put Tamil Nadu on the global map. Behind him is the iconic Chennai Central, albeit painted in checkered black-and-white squares, while the lighthouse (in reality, located a few meters away) stands guard. Executed by five young artists from across Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, and designed by Johnson Kshetrimayum, the mural by St+art India has by now become the face of the Olympiad

An event of this scale which saw participation from across the world cannot and should not be forgotten: this was the idea behind the project, says Hanif Kureshi, artistic director at St+art India. ”The event is over and most reminders would fade. But some would stay as a memory of what happened. It is a tribute to the Olympiad,” adds Hanif. The idea behind commissioning up-and-coming local artists was a deliberate one. Tamil Nadu also has a  rich tradition of banner art and painting, which they wanted to tap into. “The mural shows two different expressions of Thambi: we made Thambi a South Indian superstar, as seen in his posture and style. While the other one shows him welcoming people to his city. And the city’s iconic elements are painted as chess boards,” he adds.   

Thambi as a South Indian superstar

Thambi as a South Indian superstar | Photo Credit: RAGU R

Chennai-based K Vishwa; M Bharath, A James and K Dhanavel from Puducherry; and A Aravind from Villupuram, all part of the Dravida Chezhiyan Karaikal are the artists behind the wall. This is the first time the collective has undertaken a facade of this scale. Explaining the process, Vishwa, the son of renowned banner artist NN Kumar, says, “Initially, we thought of doing a projection but that did not work out on the wall. Then, we put grafts and divided the wall in sections to paint them. It took us five days and nights to finish the walls.” 

The narrative of the mural is a hearty, rather stylish welcome and a warm send-off, all rolled into one. Looks like we will not be missing Thambi for at least a few years. 


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Printable version | Aug 11, 2022 3:30:03 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/chess-olympiad-mascot-thambi-gets-a-macho-makeover/article65749815.ece