Of nature and nurture and the tug of conscience

Paris Mohan Kumar. Photo : Thulasi Kakkat   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

He sleeps little; he walks all night in the forests of Wayanad and he paints daily, furiously. Veteran artist Mohan Kumar, commonly known as Paris Mohan Kumar, has celebrated the woman and the forests in his career spanning over five decades. In ‘Reverberations - The Unheard Whispers’ on at David Hall, Fort Kochi till May 29, the two themes feature again in fresh creations. If the preoccupation with two subjects can be limiting, it is not felt so. The frames are vibrant, the strokes energetic, the colours moving, landscapes poetic and the woman, the heroine. At 70 the artist’s social zeal, his dedication to saving forests, and painting to fund his obligations to the earth and nature make him an artist with a mission.

Hailing from Mahe, Mohan Kumar began his art pursuits in Puducherry and later moved to Paris. Self-taught, his style – forms, features – shows a clear blend of Parisian and indigenous influences. The female form ranges from lissom, waif-like, androgynous to fuller silhouettes, the features fervid and fashionable.

Despite his long stay in Paris, a good 24 years, his landscapes have an unmistakable connect to his motherland. When he took up forest conservation 10 years ago and an organic lifestyle, he began a concomitant promotion of the cause, his sceneries turning hyper local. In the current show, the natural landscape of Wayanad take centre stage. But the woman is never relegated. She remains prima donna even in a nebulous, mysterious sense, holding even a stronger presence.

“I always paint women in nature. A woman is not safe in a bus stop nowadays. I create an imaginary landscape and place a woman there. No one can touch her. She is safe in the forest,” he says. A bird and a woman feature in a 2012 work titled ‘Hebu.’ ‘In The Ruin,’ a woman, small and lost, stands between worlds that have lost balance, “like a woman, still happy, in an old dilapidated tharavadu.” A small work has a French woman in a sari. “I work with speed and do small works even when travelling,” says the artist on his work style.

In 1988, Mohan Kumar was listed by UNESCO as one of the 40 greatest artists in the world. Although self-taught and not from Europe, his style has had an impact on contemporary artists there. He was honoured by Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, and his works don the walls of several public spaces and corporate offices across the country.

His art now, as effusive and evocative as before, fillips his social pursuit. He, along with like-minded friends, works on saving forests and with the communities therein; he takes an artistic license to propagate a new way of life to the inhabitants. “We have to humanise the man for the sake of nature, for woman, and children,” says Mohan Kumar.

Some of the changes that that they have brought about are the way in which the inhabitants approach nature and the wild. Earlier, snakes were killed without compunction, but no longer. Led by him, his group provide grains to the farmers for the forest land and buy back the produce. They market it as well. Their efforts have brought about a system where ample food and remuneration for the families are coming in. Mohan Kumar’s singular work has been in encouraging womenfolk to make indigenous pickles and snacks which are marketed.

In these selfless endeavours it is his art that supports the tug of his conscience and funds his social work.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 8:18:10 PM |

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