Life & Style

An art nook in Kochi is bringing women artists together

Women artists interacting with each other at Namasthe Art Center in Kochi

Women artists interacting with each other at Namasthe Art Center in Kochi

In June 2021, when Victoria A M opened her studio — which had been closed for several months due to the lockdowns — she found that the enforced closure and the monsoon rains had caused much devastation. “I was mentally destroyed,” she recalls. Her series of paintings on the Kerala Floods of 2018, which was to have been her entry to the Lokame Tharavadu show, had been ravaged.

A devastated Victoria gathered the mouldy water-stained canvases and torched them. She remembers “those terrible days when there was no income”. Then she contracted COVID-19. But at a time, “when things were coming apart”, Victoria found hope in “my angels”, a new series of works on those who helped her during these dark days.

In her 60s, Victoria says that life has been hard for women artists, especially during the pandemic. In the beginning of 2022, she began Advent, a series of works by women artists at Namasthe Art Cener, her 160-sq.ft space in Mattancherry. Her only trouble in this hired space is the lack of a toilet. Victoria hopes her health will permit her to host women artists as frequently as possible. After Advent -3, Austria based Malayali artist Deepa Chandran Ram is to exhibit her works. She also plans to have art camps for women.

A sisterhood

So far, around 25 artists — ranging from college students to senior artists — have exhibited their works and the third edition of Advent is ongoing. The continuous shows have rallied the women into a sisterhood of support, solace and professional energy.

“I am happy that my space has become a rallying place for women artists,” says Victoria. “They exhibit their works, meet, chat, find support and comfort and many launch themselves from here. It’s very satisfying.”

Radha Gomathy, who was at Victoria’s side during her fight, commends the latter’s bravery in the face of extreme adversity. “I remember talking to her about payment of electricity bills and of art at the same time,” smiles Victoria.

A group of young artists with Victoria A M , right

A group of young artists with Victoria A M , right

Anu Zafran, who is exhibiting four works, found Victoria through a women’s group on WhatsApp. “It was a brave move to give us the gallery, her time and effort. As women, we have to find support for ourselves and Victoria is an inspiration. She has kept afloat and going despite all her problems,” says Anu, adding that initially she felt diffident about expressing herself but such a group and gallery gives her confidence. 

Sandhyambika, a self-taught artist and professional banker, says her work ‘Thottavadi’ or Touch me Not is a about her being labelled thus. The work which has squirrels and birds among the plants is about the strength of a woman. “The plant is strong and so are women,” says the artist.

Work by artist Anu Zafran

Work by artist Anu Zafran

Mural artist Lekha Vyloppilly, whose works draw from Indian tradition, is pleased to be part of Advent. Though she does not identify with “gender tags” in art, she feels that such initiatives go a long way in supporting women.

Though the sales from the shows have not resulted in substantial transactions (there were four sales in the first edition), Victoria has been drawing buyers to her small and cosy nook.

Jeevadhyanam, by Lekha Vyloppilly. Rice paper on canvas/coffee wash and water colour pencil

Jeevadhyanam, by Lekha Vyloppilly. Rice paper on canvas/coffee wash and water colour pencil

 

Early yearning

As a school girl in her Sree Moolagramam, she was noticed for her “special drawings” but art was not a field to be chosen as a career, and certainly not for girls. She went on to study Sanskrit and philosophy. When Victoria came to Kochi as a bride, 40 years ago, she had to set aside her passion for art to be a homemaker. Though she didn’t touch a paintbrush for 10 years, her husband (photographer Boney Keyar) and her father-in-law, artist -photographer, K R Antony, encouraged her to learn. She recalls telling her husband that it was paints she craved for, not a sari.

In the early 1990s she participated in a group show. Her entry, ‘The elephant bath’, was an unframed work “on a piece of paper stuck on the wall” at Maulana Azad Library in Kochi. This was followed by another group show at Maharaja’s College. Later Victoria worked as an art teacher and looked after Captain Ludwig’s Cochin Art Gallery at Princess Street in Fort Kochi, where her talent was recognised. She also worked with the Cochin Corporation for five years on their women and children scheme. Awareness programmes at grassroot level. She also began writing poetry and co-authored an anthology with German artist Lieselotte Stieger.

Women have been the subject of Victoria’s works, and this continues in her role as gallerist. “I have women’s interests in mind. I like the subject: women and children,” says Victoria gazing at the bright pink bougainvillea flowers outside her gallery.


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Printable version | Mar 16, 2022 11:09:06 am | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/an-art-nook-in-kochi-is-bringing-women-artists-together/article65207243.ece