Her voyage in art

TALENT AND CRAFT: One of Kalamandalam Bindhulekha's works at the exhibition in Durbar Hall Art Gallery. Photos: H. Vibhu  

The woman lies splayed across a bed of lily leaves, full-bodied, yet seemingly weightless. She is seen again, floating among dragonflies with dreamy wings. Underwater, she seems to swim with the fishes. Her face is serene, typical of the women in the murals, with long lotus eyes half-closed and lips curved into an almost smile. The woman is beautiful, but unornamented. The woman, says Kalamandalam Bindhulekha, is a personification of the artist’s mind. “I gave it female form only because I am a woman; here it is not the form, but the inner self that is laid bare. That is why I painted her without any jewellery or finery,” she says.

Bindhulekha, whose works are on show at the Durbar Hall Art Centre, is an artist who believes in the sanctity of the mural tradition. For the past 15 years, she has been painting, learning and perfecting a “skill that consumes the artist”. “Mural painting has to follow the tenets of tradition. It is a laborious process and is physically and mentally draining,” she says. Bindhulekha learnt the art from her brother, Sadanandan, who studied at the Guruvayur Institute of Mural Painting. “He introduced me to the colourful world of murals,” says the artist, who was fascinated by the characters and the stories in these paintings and by the craft. As a student of the Kerala Kalamandalam, Bindhulekha learnt that her passion for painting persisted despite the rigours of Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam training.

When she completed her four-year diploma in dance in 1998, she decided to immerse herself in mural painting. In two years, she got an opportunity to work at the Vadakurumba Bhadrakali temple in Thrissur district, where she single-handedly did a 50-sq.ft mural. “It was a daunting task, but I undertook it. It had to be done in the traditional style, with total adherence to the rules.”

Encouraged by the response, Bindhulekha decided to invest her energies into murals. Dance, which had gone on in bits and pieces as lessons for students, too stopped. “I was completely immersed in my painting. You know some works take as long as three months,” she says. Her oeuvre today consists of a variety of works ranging from the purely traditional to the innovative. “At first, I had not wanted to modernise my painting. My idea was to let it evolve and not force myself. Eventually it did evolve,” she says, referring to the collection on display, “The Voyage of Dreams”.

Her newer works, however, are not a total deviation from the mural style. “The basics are the same. I would like to call it an artistic interpretation in mural,” she says. Many of the works in the series have been based on the ‘natyakaranas’ (the basic components of dance). “When I thought about it later, I realised that all of my work were based on pre-written text—mythology, the dhyana slokas, the natyakaranas. That is when I decided to move out of these confines.” Bindhulekha’s works are in acrylic on canvas. “Reproducing authentic mural colours on canvas involves a lot of thought and work.”

Some of the paintings at the show are in the traditional style—a large imposing work of the Goddess and Lord Krishna. One painting shows the Goddess in a playful mood with her besties as one of them weaves flowers into her hair.

Few women ventured into murals in the past because there were few opportunities, she says. “There were no schools offering training. Today, there are quite a few.”

Murals have great mass appeal now and there is a lot of interest in the craft. But Bindhulekha is not impressed by the commercialisation of temple art. “I, and I am sure, many like me, learnt it as a sacred art. Today, people want it on saris and dupattas. Popularity is good in that it helps the artist reach out to more people. But certainly not on saris,” she says.

This is her first show in Kochi and it is on till September 20.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 10:37:08 AM |

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