Art

Hortus Malabaricus revisited

Novel attempt German artist Wilhem Bronner presenting The New Hortus Malabaricus at David Hall, Fort Cochin   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

When freelance German artist, Wilhelm Bronner came to India 35 years ago as a 23-year-old he did not face the much bandied scenario, a culture shock. It was only when he returned to his quiet, beautiful town in Bavaria, that he felt the impact. The shock being: that by and large Europeans were wealthy, secure and spoilt. That they did not know the real world. For him every individual should leave their borders and see a different culture to get the right perspective on life. His travels have thus been turning points in his itinerant lifestyle.

Modern interpretation

On this fourth visit to India he is presenting a modern interpretation of the 17th Century tome, Hortus Malabaricus (the Garden of Malabar), a botanical compendium on the medicinal plants of Malabar devised and collated by Dutch Governor Van Rheede and physician and ayurveda expert Itty Achuthan.

He worked over the project for three months in his studio in Germany.

Wilhelm is primarily an artist who indulges in the figurative. People make up his canvas, but here he has digressed to take in the garden of Malabar itself.

Earlier this year Wilhelm was present at the opening of a visual installation on the Hortus Malabaricus at David Hall, the venue where he is currently showcasing. Charmed by the drawings and the in-depth information in the book he wished to make a fresh interpretation of the subject. He presented his idea to the ‘cgh’ group, the owners of the tome. They allowed him free access and he diligently photographed the 742 drawings present in the 12 volumes.

He presents his interpretation in 120 works on neat wooden panels. “It was inspiring in the way plants in nature inspire one. Doing remakes was very interesting;” he says adding that his studio turned into a private Indian garden for three months. In that period he worked on each single plant, studying the properties and appearance. “Ï was introduced to plants. It was an extraordinary experience especially because these are healing plants not found in Germany. I could smell the plants and see the frog,” he says recounting the illusory tangibility.

Giving the interpretation an artist’s touch, Wilhelm has given each plant a characteristic colour. The narrow panels have calligraphy in four languages- Malayalam, Latin, Arabic and Sanskrit.

“The drawings in the book are so beautiful. They choked my heart,” says Wilhelm recalling the moment when he decided to take on this project.

12 watercolours

At the show there are 12 watercolours where Wilhelm has played with the first classical image of the book, where a lady gardener sits majestically with her group of assistants. He interprets the image in 12 different ways, he himself appearing in one of them. These are bright works and he incorporates fun elements in them too, like the appearance of a lizard, a lamp, castles, flowers and a beer garden

The three large acrylics on canvas are on David Hall, the venue. In theses works history, food, people, spirituality, garden blend in a happy concoction. There are 12 menu cards done while Wilhelm stayed at Saswara resort. These too mix the amusing with the real, fable with food, and people with pizza. Here one can feel the artist enjoying himself, a light hearted take, different from the passion and intensity in the more scholarly work of the New Hortus Malabaricus.

The show is on till November 14 and gallery timings are from 11- 7 p.m. The gallery is closed on Mondays.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 10:18:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/art/hortus-malabaricus-revisited/article4027910.ece

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