Showcasing three generations of art

THIS IS not a mere `kolu'. IT is a chance to crystallise the patience, love and tradition that has filtered through three generations. Which is why it is incorrect to call Uma Nagraj's exhibition of dolls, a kolu. She began three months before the festival and spends 12 hours every day preparing the decorations that go into her tableau of dolls.

Roses from 2x3 inch pieces of fabric, petals, leaves and wisps for the creepers, birds, animals, fruits and rodents are all handmade, from copperwire, crepe paper, organdie and bees wax, with an extraordinary dose of patience. Uma (second generation) picked up the meticulous, intricate, time-consuming craftwork as a child from her mother (first generation). It is a traditional art handed from mother to daughter for at least three generations. "I am 60 years old," she says as she recalls some of the dolls that she helped her mother with. "I don't know the origins of kolu. Some of the items displayed here were done when I was a child." Some of the dolls are from her mother's collection and she fondly recalls how the dolls took precedence over saris costing just the same.

In the tableau, Andal is walking to the temple from the garden with the garland meant for Krishna, still around her neck. Her friend wonders at the consequences as she spies Andal's father at the temple. Another friend has lost her way in the garden. The costumes were handmade, as also the glittering jewellery that adorns the dolls. The well and the trees, the shrubs and flowers were made over a period of years.

The backdrop of the dense forest is hand painted and the deer, the colourful birds and the tiny chameleon poised on the bark of a tree — it is a moment frozen in time, a recreation of an imagined piece of history. Ms. Nagaraj recalls the tableaux of the Buddha walking away from his family, Rani Padmini of Chittor and incidents from Krishna's life.

She has learnt Mysore and Tanjore art painting, and is a Carnatic vocalist, an art which she has taught children.

The 3D effect that the tableau creates leaves viewers spell-bound. "I wanted more people to see my mother's work. Hence this exhibition in Chennai. Even the garland that Andal wears, took two days to make," says Depikka Nagraj (third generation), a classical dancer who has taken her mother's ardour a little further at her craft centre.

In an era when the `kolupadis' are stacked with soft toys and paiper machie dolls, one woman's obsession with art and the pure joy that she derives from her work is appreciable. The exhibition is on at Bimba, The Art Hut, 2, Temple Avenue, Srinagar Colony, Saidapet.

By Sujatha R.

Photo: N. Sridharan

Recommended for you