Transgenders and Shankaracharya come together on canvas
New Delhi: South Asian theatre, traditional Kathakali dance, a festival of transgenders and Adi Shankaracharya's text "Saundariya Lehri" (Waves of Beauty) fuse in Chennai-based artist George Kuruvilla's works, now on display in the capital.
The exhibition of paintings, photographs and sculptures -- one of the most talked about in the capital this season -- opened Nov 16 at the Apparao Gallery of the Triveni Kala Sangam.
The themes are figurative -- drawn from Kathakali rituals and Japan's ancient Kabuki theatre. The graffiti -- or the recurring texts that Kuruvilla sprinkles on his compositions like sacred mantras -- are from Adi Shankaracharya's work hailing the beauty of Shiva's consort, Shakti or goddess Durga.
Dancers, monks, sadhus, people, market places and transgenders form the core of his colourful works, the shades of which reflect the "mystical palette of colours that the Kathakali dancers wear on their faces", according to Kuruvilla.
The artist, who currently has two simultaneous exhibitions on in Paris, says the entire body of his works is dedicated "adoration of beauty -- both in form and without form which cannot be seen but is felt within".
The "Aravani" or the transgender series is arresting and dramatic. "I have portrayed the transgenders with an element of wit and humour. At the same time, I have tried to question our reaction to transgenders in real life. My sculptures, which are half human and half image, show the face as a mask underlining the traits beneath. The emotions manifest on the mask-like visages," the artist said.
The sculptures are inspired by "Aravan", a temple festival of transgenders in South Chennai. Hundreds of transgenders congregate every year to relive the legend of "Aravaan" from the Mahabharata, who married a transgender before laying down his life at the war in Kurukshetra, the artist said.
The medium is fibre-glass and formats of the sculptures are almost life-size.
"The ras (spirit) of the paintings and photographs is 'shringara' which represents the lengthy preparation process of Kathakali dancers. There is beauty in the way the male Kathakali dancers dress for their performances. They grind natural colour in the pestle and apply them on their faces at least 24 hours before performing. The 'shringara' represents the beauty of Shiva Shakti. I have tried to capture these subtle nuances of the stylised Kathakali dance in my compositions," Kuruvilla said.
The show will close Nov 30.