New Delhi: The art of Thota Vaikuntam, leading Indian figurative painter, remains loyal to the aspiration for autonomy and a distinct socio-cultural identity of his native turf, Telangana.Vaikuntam is described as the most visible face of Telangana, his lines reflecting the battle for a separate state.
Considered one of the best figurative artists in the the country, Vaikuntam is often feted as the "Jamini Roy of the south".
He has exhibited worldwide and has been honoured with nine national and state awards.
"My art is my village, Boorugupally in Karimnagar district in Andhra Pradesh, the soul of the crusade for a separate identity for Telangana. My art will never move out of my village and people," 69-year-old Vaikuntam told reporters.
The artist`s 15-day solo exhibition "Metamorphosis" opened at the Art Alive Gallery in the capital March 10.
Vaikuntam`s new collection of work on display has been inspired by the music and the people of his village, who sing of their blues and joys, play bamboo flutes and the traditional "shehnai" at festivals.
"My palette captures this wild idyllic spirit of Telangana and the distinctive culture of the region," said the Hyderabd-based artist.
Women dominate his new canvases.
They are dark, sonorous duennas with elephantine gait, an indolent sexuality and broad brows shining with vermillion and turmeric patterns - either offering flowers to the lord in groups or conjoining their men with the flute in Radha-Krishna like imagery.
The artist uses polka dot and lines and deploys the complex wash painting method, native to the genre of water compositions, to embellish his women in bright colours.
"We have our own culture and everything is different - even the language is different. We have our own ornamentation and way of dressing. We are totally different and I want to uphold my cultural identity through my art," Vaikumtan said.
True to the hardening of his political stand, Vaikuntam`s canvases are changing.
"My palette is brighter than before and the forms are simpler. I have flattened and simplified the process of applying colours; and I am trying to move to group compositions to bring out the collective identity of the people of Telangana.
"I want to record the uniqueness of the festivals of Telangana before they are lost forever," the artist said.
"Already they are changing and getting lost, and no one remembers them any more," he observed.
An untitled canvas of eight Telangana women offering flowers to Bathukamma, a local deity, during the festival of flowers stands out for its striking mobility of figures, the sophisticated beauty of the rich colour palette, the spirit of ethnic fervour and the rural favour, characteristic of the region.
"I want to work on Dussehra, which is very different in Telangana, unlike the way it is celebrated in north India," he said.
Vaikuntam`s life is rooted in the soil of Telangana. Till a few years ago, he was a farmer who tilled his own land. Born to an impoverished family, he helped his father at the family grocery shop in the village.
"As a child of five, I painted with chalk on slate and later with charcoal," the artist recalled.
He studied at the College of Fine Arts and Architecture in Hyderabad and painting and print-making at the faculty of fine arts in the Maharaja Siyajirao University of Baroda.
Vaikuntam was later mentored by his guru, the veteran artist K.G. Subramanian, in Baroda.
"I want a separate Telangana for our art, culture and identity to survive. We have our own creative language and as an artist, I do not want tobe dominated or influenced economically or socially by other cultures of the world. I have to live as an equal," he said.
The movement for a separate Telangana state carved out from Andhra Pradesh, dating back to 1969, has been led by a group of political, social and cultural activists.
The agitation has by now become a major socio-political issue, with pro-Telangana marches becoming violent.
Several statues of Andhra Pradesh`s renowned poets, freedom fighters and other heroes were destroyed Thursday during a "million march" by pro-Telangana groups.