The surreal blue leaves of the Elephant Ear cradle shimmering drops of water in ‘Mystique’. A scarlet dragonfly hovers dramatically over it; In ‘Nilavu’,(Moonlight) a man and woman sit between blue foliage and a pond with fish and frog exchanging paper boats. ‘Harmony’ celebrates the myriad colours of the forest and its people.
These are some of the works that form part of ‘Journey of the Dragonfly’, a solo show by artist Babu KG at Vasby Konsthall, north of Stockholm which will run till October 10. A detailed depiction of an evergreen tropical rainforest and its inhabitants, the exuberant images and colours on these canvases have created a definite impression in Sweden, known for its minimalist style.
The show was conceptualised by artist and curator Dorina Mocan, who says that “the Indian artist has had a big impact on the Swedish public. She was introduced to Babu’s art through his student, London-based Nisha Dilip. After conversations and research, the show was organised despite the limitations caused by the pandemic.
An elated Babu, speaking from his home-town, Thrissur, in Kerala, says “I cannot believe that we could pull this off during the pandemic. Surprisingly it was not hard.” A work from the same series is also being exhibited at the ongoing Lokame Tharavadu at Alappuzha. Yet another work in progress is a 40 x 15-foot mural at Mandalay Hall in Jew Town in Kochi.
Babu’s canvas is wide; on the face of it, the narrative seems obvious but is enriched with deeper interpretations. His forests are peopled with indigenous dwellers who coexist with elephants, deer, frogs, butterflies, birds, dragonfly, tigers… together, they roam in the grass around the trees, bushes and shrubs. Dewdrops shimmer on leaves like quiet pearls and the moonlight is a mysterious glow. His world is far away from the materialism of daily existence. In actuality, the bright hues and fulsome images are subtly layered and combine a subliminal mysticism with the real.
A school dropout who grew up near a forest, Babu closely watched the forest people and their lifestyles. When his brother married a girl from the tribe, he discovered more of their close relationship with Nature. These became the language of his narrative. Later, the people he interacted with become characters of his pictorial narrative.
The colours speak out
While green is a predominant colour, blue plays an equally significant role as a background shade in the colour of the sky, mountains and water.
“The dragonfly is present in all my works; it is the signature of my soul,” says Babu. “Its eyes are big and its wings are transparent; when you have such clarity of vision, an inner and an outer view, then you will have an open mind,” he explains adding that the forest people, , live with nature and hence acquire a “divine aura”. Each work is elevated by the philosophy behind it. “We are like trees,” says Babu, speaking metaphorically of the connection to Nature. Indirectly the works convey how man has tipped the fragile balance between nature and humanity.
Ten of the 28 works on show range from four to seven feet in size, as Babu likes to work on a large canvas where he can “include the whole world in it”. “It is a great feeling to be accepted by a country like Sweden, as it chooses its art very carefully,” says Babu, immensely satisfied that the show is introducing his part of the world to audiences far away.
Internationally Babu has also shown his works at the 2014 Busan–Art–Fair, South Korea, and made two works for China’s Ministry of Culture the same year. In 2015, he exhibited a work of a mother and child at Pittsburgh in the U.S.