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Exhibition Review

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Contemporary theory
Aesthetics, material philosophy and

Special Review of
Draavidaa’s Kalayanam and
Uru’s Mattancherry
In the backdrop of the
History of art movements
In Fort Kochi

First Cochin Carnival 1985
Beach Festival 1985 © Abul Kalam Azad

Celebrating  Mattancherry

History is a controversial word. There are always several versions to it, however, in time, it often becomes one sided – narrated from the view of the victorious and the triumphant – meaning, it would tell the story of the one who succeeded in terms of money, power, wealth, reach or scale. The catalysts that influenced the rhythmic swell and slump of changing times are often forgotten and in due course their names become forbidden in the public discourse. There can never be any concurrences between these different versions, however, these feeble voices will always linger in the air – waiting to be heard.

Sangam era Muziris was a natural sea harbor (dockland), and much before the Greeks discovered the monsoon winds in CE 47, the ancient Arabs and Tamilakam sailors had crossed the Indian Ocean (around 110 BCE). What began as a route for a military expedition became a flourishing trade route, and the significant position held by the riverine port junction Muziris in the spice route trade and cultural exchange is well established. This flourishing port is believed to have disappeared during the flooding of the Periyar River (1341)- which also formed the natural harbor of Kochi.

The port activities started to shift and with the arrival of the Portuguese during the early 15th century the local culture and lifestyle of this dockland was changed forever, making it one of the India’s earliest European settlements. The war between Kochi and Calicut kingdoms, and the shifting of alliances and power led to repeated colonization by the Portuguese, Dutch, and later the British. The sea facing Fort Kochi came directly under the Madras Province and was dominated by the European monoculture, while the Mattancherry dockland, occupied by Arab, Jewish, Ancient Christian traders and trade guilds, had a penchant for multi-cultural amalgamation. The influences of the changing rulers and their philosophy could be seen in the local art, architecture and lifestyle, making this region culturally unique and cosmopolitan. During the reign of Rama Varma Rajarshi, the abdicated king from the Cochin kingdom, hailed as the ‘Father of Modern City of Kochi’ by Lord Curzon, railway line from Shornur was extended to Kochi (1902). This laid the foundations for the modern Port of Kochi, which was declared as a major port in 1936.

Known as Malayalam Era (ME), post-independent Kochi became the first princely state to join the Indian Union and continued to strengthen its trade and commercial activities. In 1950, Kerala was formed as a separate state, by merging the Travancore-Cochin sate, the Malabar district, and the taluks of Kazargod. ‘Fort Cochin’ became a sleepy post-colonial hamlet. The lonely streets and almost empty bylines named after the English (Rosy street, Burgher street etc.,) decorated this laid back town. Most of the houses were also vacant. Loud western music and smell of cakes from the remaining few occupied houses professed the legacy of the colonial past. Fort Cochin was not a tourist destination during those times, for both the nationals and foreign backpackers, as there were not many hotels, restaurants, lounge bars or art galleries. The Portuguese tradition of yearly celebrations also stopped in the 70s and only the unorganized fancy dress competition and New Year’s Eve celebrations were held at the beach.

First Cochin Carnival 1985
First Cochin Carnival 1985
First Cochin Carnival 1985
First Cochin Carnival 1985
Beach Festival 1985 | First Cochin Carnival © Abul Kalam Azad 1985

It was during this time, commemorating the UN proclamation of International Youth Year (1985), three youngsters from Kochi, George Augustine Thundiparambil (Roy), Ananda Felix Scaria (Ananda Surya) and Antony Anup Scaria initiated a month long grand public event, to bring back the vibrancy and life of Cochin. Soon, Nirmal John Augustine, Radha Gomaty, Abul Kalam Azad joined the team and the effort took wings. As several others started getting involved, KJ Sohan, (Corporation Counselor) also joined the team. Fort Cochin RDO Valsala Kumari extended active support from the government side. Almost 150 youth had gathered from different clubs, and adventure sports, classical music concerts, theater, dance performances, and the Cochin Carnival were organized, purely with the funds raised from the public. However, from the following year, this organic, indigenous art movement centered in Kochi was packaged and revived as a continuity of the Portuguese New Year revelry held during the colonial days. The unspoken history of the grand event ‘The Beach festival 1985’ is an example of how an original idea of people or individuals could easily be manipulated and re-branded by dominant clichés and individuals. However, the same group, this time led by Ananda Surya was actively involved in the conducting of the annual Tree Festival, which was successfully organized for almost a decade.

It was a slightly different scenario in the multi-cultural Mattancherry – here, the long tradition of South Indian celebrative music and theatre performances somehow sustained the changing colonial and post colonial political scenario. It was packed with people and activities. In 1988, Studio Zen, a collective initiated by Abul Kalam Azad, was set-up in Culvethy, near the Mattancherry-Fort Cochin border. Active members from the Beach Festival/Tree Festival, such as Nirmal John Augustine, Anand Scaria, Ebby, Chicku, Anoop Scaria had joined hands in this initiative. The works of Chicku, Venu, Kaladharan were displayed in this vintage warehouse that was converted to a photo-art studio.

In 1996, Shihab started Dravidia, Kochi’s first commercial gallery continuing the new trend of converting old warehouse/abandoned buildings. Following suit, Kashi Art Café was founded in 1997 in Fort cochin. In 2000, Abul Kalam Azad returned to Mattancherry after a brief stint in Delhi, and setup the Mayalokam studio in Mattancherry. In the year 2001, Abul joined hands with Ananda Surya, Gayathri Gamuz and Emma Burke-Gnaffey, and Mayalokam Studio started functioning as a collective. The nascent art scene in Kochi began taking place and many other artists from the locality started getting involved. In the year 2001, Encounter, Kochi’s first contemporary art festival was organized by ICaC (India Contemporary art Council), an unregistered body led by Mayalokam Art collective and Kashi Art Café. Many local/National artists, academicians, local people and organizations including Prof. Rajan Gurukkal, Dr. A.K. Ramakrishnan, KP.Sasi and S. Saratchandran, Gayatri Gamuz, Jose Manuel Val, Suresh Jayaram, Vivek Vilasini, Alexander Devasia, Bawa Chelladurai, CV Ramesh joined together to organize this event. Contemporary art exhibitions, film festivals, seminar on cultural ideology, ‘meet the artist’ events, and music concerts were organized in various venues as part of this fortnight long art festival. Kochi became a hub for artists and grabbed the attention of the national art scene. Buyers started visiting and many artists started to settle down here. It was during this time that a bridge between Mumbai art world and Kochi art world started forming.

Kochi's first contemporary art festival
Kochi's first contemporary art festival
Kochi's first contemporary art festival
Kochi's first contemporary art festival
Mayalokam Studio, Kochi's contemporary art festival
“Encounter” –  Contemporary Art Festival 2001  |  Original Photographs taken by Iqbal MK and Boney KR

In the mean time, Dravidia was also actively involved and continued to influence the local art scene, as part of the collective as well as individually with its unique approach. After ‘Remembering Bhupen’ a group show featuring artists including Abul Kalam Azad, Bose Krishnamachari, Mohandas NN, Nijeena Neelambaram, Prabhakaran K, Pradeepkumar KP, Premjee TP, Radha R, Rajan MK, Rimzon NN, Valson Koorma Kolleri, Zakkir Hussain and many others, Kashi Art Café was shifted to Mattancherry (2004). Bose Krishnamachari started associating with Kashi in an active way and started curating shows. By 2005, the local scenario started changing. Coupled with the dullness in the art market and other survival challenges, the regional movements that had amassed local support suffered – and the government or other cultural bodies didn’t really extend a supportive hand. Mayalokam Art Collective was officially dissolved in 2005 and Abul continued his art practice of documenting the local micro history, operating from the same building at the busy Mattancherry bazaar roads. Even though individual artists studio practice continued for another few years, the collective art movements lost its momentum. Owing to a variety of reasons Mayalokam Studio closed its doors in the year 2010. The free music festival that was organized here for almost ten years was done for. It was around the same time the ground work for Kochi Muziris Biennale (KMB) was being laid – with the support of the Kerala government. In 2012, the first KMB opened its doors, around the same time Dravidia that had by then moved to its own place, and after conducting about 100 shows, a large number of music/theatre performances and artist gatherings, also closed down. Just before the first edition of KMB, Kashi Art Café was sold and bought by hotelier Edgar Pinto.

Six years later, Kochi is again creating a buzz in the art world, with the return of Dravidia and the launch of Uru. They bring along with them a new hope for the artists, as hidden within its wings are the possible news of a renewal of the long awaited art market. This is a visibly tough time for artists, especially for the full timers – the amateurs, part timers and the likes somehow survive the crisis with the perks received from other sources. Many galleries have closed their doors for the time being or forever – only time will tell what their future holds; and, the few surviving/successful galleries are reluctant to extend a supporting hand to the artists during their difficult times. It is a known fact that many galleries came springing in Kochi after the success of KMB – and disappeared with the same velocity, causing further damages to the artists or their works. But Dravidia, with its decade long history of involvement in the local scenario and URU which brings with it the success of the KMB, are worth a second look.

While the premiere show of Dravidia, “Kalayanam” was a gathering of sorts – of most of the artists who had previously exhibited there, many of the works in URU’s ‘Mattancherry’ were photo-based. In a time when Photography is in the process of rendering itself free from the domain of commissioned illustrative works and is reaching its true potential as a new medium of self expression – this attempt to commission photographers with the sole purpose of curating a show is like killing the soul of this medium. Both Dravidia and URU try to position themselves as a cultural “public” initiative – a platform for artists, and they proclaim that profit is secondary. If both these huge establishments intend to position themselves as altruistic and service oriented, then how will they manage the resources for their huge premises remains an unanswered question as of now. When KMB, a gigantic public art activity supported by government is already functioning in a successful manner, drawing several hundreds and thousands of art enthusiasts/collectors and showcasing local, national and international artists, the need for a public centered “private” initiatives such as this causes some eyebrows to be raised. Will URU, like KMB, sweep the entire “high-art” market scenario? The chances are high, with the same artists exhibiting in KMB and then at URU or Vice Versa in the future – forming a closed knit of certain artists – that handicaps the other local initiatives and artists. Will Dravidia and other such galleries/initiatives survive this time?

“A word” with two Directors 

Interview with Riyaz Kumu, Director, URU Art Harbor

Aesthetically, is there a difference in the way Uru has been conceived with respect to the Biennale?

I don’t see Uru as a gallery. This is a place for the community, it’s a place for artists, and it’s a place for people living around here. A cultural centre, or an art centre – that’s how I see Uru. There will be a lot of interventionist activities, social activism; different programs like that is what we are planning.

So the vision is close to that of Biennale?

Yeah, definitely. It’s a vision of art, and the vision of art is to empower the society now. The agenda behind this exhibition is also to celebrate Mattanchery’s multiculturalism, diversity, the kind of people who live here – it is actually an attempt to celebrate that. We’ll keep talking about it, you know, it’s not just about coming and doing one or two shows and finishing it off. It’s a continuous process in which different artists will come together and different projects will be done.

The institutions that existed in Kochi before the Biennale, like Kashi, for example, were part of an art movement, so to say. Where does Uru stand with respect to that?

This is an extension of that. I’m personally very much interested in dedicating my life to art, people’s environment, community activities – and Uru is a part of that, and it’s an extension. A gallery makes a lot of social differences. So I think we need more spaces like this, and this is something I realized, that we need more spaces in which artists can live in Kerala, an exhibition space throughout the year, an engagement site where everybody comes and uses it as a space for the community. This is not just about art-making, this is also about supporting art-making and at the same time empowering the social structure through art and culture.

When investing in something like this, you’d also have looked at the market, and how Uru will be seen in it.

We have a very interesting sustainable model which will help the artist, and also the institution to be self-sustained. This is not a place to make profit and survive off it. I’m an artist, and I make money on my own art. I don’t have to start a business for that. It’s a collective effort, there are other people involved. My friends are helping us with the sites – they’re not artists but they’re very much interested in the social activism.

What sort of artists are you looking to present?

All kinds. In this project, I have poets, filmmakers, sculptors, designers, photographers, painters – I have a mix of people working.

There has been a huge boom in the number of galleries in Kochi in recent years. Many of them closed down quite fast. How do you think Uru will fare?

Let’s pray that that doesn’t happen to Uru.

Draavidia Gallery Fort Kochin
KR Sunil photography exhibition at URU art harbor
URU mattancherry show view
URU art harbor, Mattancherry
URU’s Mattancherry show view

Interview with Shihab, Director, Draavidia Gallery

Why was the original Dravidia Gallery closed and why are you reopening it?

A lot of other galleries came up and a space like Dravidia didn’t have any relevance. When Dravidia was started, there was no other space. That gave it a special importance. But later, a lot of different kinds of spaces came up, and a space which accommodated only elegant events and exhibitions didn’t have any relevance. The other way to be important is to have plenty of sales, and have publicity. Dravidia had neither. We had a specific media policy, we used to charge private media for shooting inside. We had a tariff for that. So we had neither sales, nor publicity. We could have carried on conducting shows and sustained the gallery, but that was not what was needed. Art needs funds on huge scales, and if the gallery can’t bring that, there’s no point.

So it was because the art scene changed, that you had to close.

Yes, exactly.

Have you changed your vision this time?

Actually, what I tried back then is beginning to get communicated now. I think I was 10 years ahead. Now, people can understand what I’m trying to say. When we exhibited in a heritage space, a non-conventional space, there were a lot of differences in opinion – lighting, wall space, white cube and all were brought up as points of criticism. Nobody accepted when we tried to break it. But now, that’s what everybody is doing. Heritage building as an art space is a trendy idea, especially in Kochi. So now, it’s like my time.

Do you think Biennale has been influential in these aspects?

We can’t say that Biennale brought about the change, because these ideas were here before the Biennale. Kashi Art Café and all were doing it. Such ideas about space were there before Biennale, but Biennale executed it in a massive scale and attracted a much bigger audience.

How did the regional art movement that Dravidia was part of start?

We can actually say it’s a continuation of the practices of Santinikethan. I grew up among artists here. Almost all of them were closer to my father’s age than mine; Most of them were visual artists – I was comparatively less acquainted with writers.

Back then, to conduct an exhibition, one had to rent a gallery space. And then a multi-colour brochure had to be printed. Maybe get an advertisement from some textile shop or jewellery. I used to wonder why artists couldn’t get a place for themselves; there were about a 100 of us, in any case. Through a collective effort, we could easily maintain a space for ourselves. 1000 rupees a day was a big amount in the ‘90s, and most shows only lasted about 10 days. Even that would cost 10,000 just as gallery rent. Then the brochures had to printed, everybody had to be invited… Even then, there was little hope of works getting sold. There were no buyers. The same crowd that came to see exhibitions would come for film screenings, poets’ congregation and all those things. The audience was the same. Even if some program happened in Ernakulam, the same crowd would gather there. We were all part of this small crowd, this movement.

The other inspiration that can be specified is an experiment by poet M Govindan. Govindan, C N Srikantan Nair, Aravindan and others were part of a similar movement which gave birth to Kerala Kalapeedom. Personally, Kalapeedom has been a huge influence on me. It was a small space, in which eminent artists like V G Jog and Hariprasad Chaurasia came and performed, and we listened to it from up close. These happened because of a relationship among artists, not out of any monetary reasons. These were artists who were used to high remunerations and performing before vast crowds.

Such relationships are uncommon among visual artists, especially modern artists. Traditional artists have a relationship, but in their own way. They do work, at times, for little remuneration. But modern artists are not known to do that, and now, a kind of professional behaviour is being seen more and more among visual artists.

Did Studio Zen have an influence?

If we were to look at the spaces of Fort Kochi, Studio Zen would be the first hub for visual artists. Abul ran Studio Zen in Calvathy Road. People who were involved in Studio Zen were the ones who later ran other institutions or projects – Kashi Art Café, Leela Gallery, Mayalokam Collective; and in one way, Dravidia too. Even if you don’t include Dravidia, you could say I’m a product of that collective. We’re all interrelated, but I would say people like Abul were the pioneers. Abul was active in this field. He was involved in Kalapeedom as well.

Was there any particular reason to choose Fort Kochi?

It was simply because I lived here. I was involved in a lot of activities – planting trees, cultural activities, activism etc.

So there was an idea about doing something regional, instead of going to an already established hub like, say, Mumbai.

I didn’t feel the need to go anywhere else. I grew up here, was active here and simply continued that. But we had conducted camps in a lot of places, like Tirunelli, Hampi and Silent Valley.

How is Dravidia relevant today, since, as you said, many of the ideas that it previously put forward are now being practised by others? Doesn’t it have a danger of being “yet another gallery”?

It is a space that everyone can use. I don’t stand against anyone, politically or otherwise. The space is open. It’s natural that there is groupism and politics among artists, and this gallery is a space that looks to unite artists beyond such differences and create an atmosphere of participation. You can see that Riyas and Bose and plenty of other artists who might be against them are here, interacting. I’m also trying to collaborate with such people, as they can use this space – they’re already using places like Kashi, David Hall. They also know us, know our aesthetics, and this makes it much easier to work together.

It really is an attempt to resurrect the art atmosphere of the ‘80s and ‘90s of Kochi?


Along with your idea of doing quality programs, is it possible to be a presence in the market as well? Does such a market for art exist in Kochi?

I’m told that such a market exists, but I’m yet to experience it. I would like to. We used to be slightly off-located, and tourism used to be dull. That’s not the case now. Kochi is a tourists’ centre. Also, I want to be active alongside the people who are already in the field, so that Dravidia can exist as an individual space as well, while letting other artists and organizations use this space. EtP (Ekalokam Trust for Photography) is collaborating with us. Abul designed our logo. We will also extend our partnership to other areas. Ananda Surya is also associating, with his green organisation ideas – we’re also planning a show based on it. Bose, Riyas, the Uru project – we’re all discussing. This has turned into a venture that tries to bring together artists who have been separated due to various issues.

Draavidia Gallery Fort Kochi
Dravidia’s Kalayanam show view
Dravidia’s Kalayanam show view
Dravidia’s Kalayanam show view
Dravidia’s Kalayanam  show view

“Two Shows” A critical review

Interviewed by Arjun Ramachandran

Two Gallery openings – two different visions. The reopening of  Dravidia – one of Kochi’s earliest, pioneering Art Galleries- on 11th August with the show “Kalayanam”, was followed by the opening of Uru Art Harbour in Mattancherry- a new venture- on the 12th with “Mattancherry”.

Shihab TM, the man behind Dravidia- which first opened in 1997, as a solution for artists struggling to get gallery spaces- has prioritized re-uniting the many ‘splintered’ art circles within the community. Featuring around 40 artists, from established practitioners to students, the show “Kalayanam” is a step in that direction- with the emphasis on the collection of artists themselves rather than a curated collection of artworks. The atmosphere was more casual and relaxed, and it looked like a reunion of sorts of an old crowd. The works themselves exhibit a wide range of characteristics- containing samples of works by artists working with a variety of media, without restrictions of a core theme. As such, a collective critique of the show is beyond the scope of this review, because that would amount to a general criticism of the art scenario of Kerala as a whole. While the exhibiting artists are in no way representative of the whole art scene, their works reflect the prevalent trends and concerns of contemporary art in Kerala. There is a noticeable repetition of forms, colour schemes, subjects, and perspectives- with many still preferring highly textured, expressionistic renderings. The two photographs on display follow pre-modern aesthetics. This inevitably leads to questions regarding the direction of contemporary art, which seem unanswered even in a global context.

“Mattancherry” on display at the Uru Art Harbour, travels in an altogether different direction- it has all the markings of a polished show that is put together with deliberation and marketed to the art community as the ‘voice of Mattancherry’. Curated by veteran artist and Kochi-Muziris Biennale co-founder Riyas Komu, the show has roped in seasoned artists attempting to create a collection of works that draw from the everyday life of Kochi and Mattancherry. While such efforts at creating and documenting local narratives are commendable, many of the works in question come off as either superficial renderings or lacking in their execution. Ramu Aravindan has executed a series of HDR photographs chronicling the streets of Mattancherry and Kochi, remarkable for their technical quality, but rather shallow in its perception- they look pretty, and that’s about it. On the one hand, it’s always a pleasure to see a good photographic print, but it gets uninteresting after you’ve gone past three and come to the realization that it only shows a Mattancherry of the passive spectator, rather than an engaged artist. It only gets worse when you are confronted with Upendranath’s digitally altered prints- which showcase the architecture and people of Kochi in isolation. In his attempts at perhaps creating abstract collages of people and spaces that form intimate relationships with them, the redaction of elements from the image seem very jarring. The relationship between forms in architecture and people is not a new area of exploration, and in light of the work by Cartier-Bresson in this regard, one is forced to question the isolation imposed on the subjects of Upendranath’s images. KR Sunil’s claims of his works trying to engage with the contemporary life, beyond established clichés of Mattancherry are left on the text accompanying his photographs- which languish in a state of limbo outside contextual space-time. The subjects themselves are either looking off into the distance, hardly interested in engaging with the viewer, or looking at the viewer with noticeable alienation- their gazes are ones reserved for guests, impersonal and forcibly polite (It’s ironic that in trying to escape one cliché, he dived into another one). In “While the whole culture is looking at you, you are still looking at yourself?” Latheesh Lakshmanan has used screen printing on polished steel, to create a being in the image of an integrated culture that is looking out at the viewer. Perhaps an attempt at questioning the tourist mentality of the general public that visits this historic place, the inclusion of the polished mirror-like surface invariably forces me to look at myself. Route Kochi’s display desperately lacks any insight into either the history or contemporary relevance of Breudher- as if someone just came across this piece of information, and decided to put it up as it is in an art display with a nametag slapped on. The photographs accompanying the display serve no artistic or aesthetic purpose- and look like they’d been hung up to cover the blank walls. Ironically, the work with the most ‘photographic’ quality, in the contemporary sense, is the series of site specific paintings by Jalaja PS. The paintings themselves are neat, with the subjects as the sole focus of the image. The only issue in the execution was that while they endeavor to ‘reveal’ the identities of working class men and women, the lack of any sort of identification coupled with its impermanence slightly undercuts the logic of these chronicles. To her credit, though, she isn’t bothered to provide extravagant texts, but rather gives a short introduction of each of her subjects- which can be found in the printed notebooks on sale. Zakir Hussain’s watercolour drawings fail to make an impact- their execution looks shoddy in many places. The distortions in the human form and expressionistic brushwork seem childish in the four works he has executed for this show. The blotches of colour seem like bad craft rather than deliberate, controlled work. Anitha Thampi’s ‘Deshappalama’ juxtaposes poetry and text with photographic images- which in of themselves would have made for good narratives, but fail to gel on the 20-foot tall wall on which they co-exist. The photographs seem to have been pasted on the wall, with the poems painted alongside them. Again, the irrationality of executing such works on impermanent surfaces seems to be painfully lost in the process.  Sosa Joseph’s studies in oil from the idle life in and around Mattancherry depict the everyday mundaneness of the locality, rather than reinforce pop-cultural stereotypes. But, the relevance of such an activity is again called into question, where the politics of the image are passive, in the politically charged modern times. Vipin Dhanurdharan’s ‘Petrichor’ and Saju Kunhan’s ‘Our land is part of the globe’ are another two better works in the display, in terms of execution. Both have chosen to explore the geography of Mattancherry and Kochi, in an attempt at mapping its waterways and architecture. This is in stark contrast to Urban Design Collective, (an architecture and design firm) which has tried to pass off its information dump called “The Water Story”, as an artwork- or was it just a ‘work’? At the risk of getting knocked back with semantics, UDC and Route Kochi’s works need to be seen as examples of what isn’t art- dispensing raw information through art,  40 years into the Information age is as redundant of an exercise as it gets. And yet, this is a concerning trend in today’s art shows, with artists going all Rauschenberg on the public: “Its art cuz I say so”. Maybe it is time to seriously rethink the position of Art History and Art criticism in this collapsed mess of contemporary art where context and reason, more often than not, are neglected. (Anvar Ali’s display was a performance piece envisioned as an ode to the inimitable H Mehboob, which the author could not attend.)

The architecture of both galleries speak volumes about their politics as well- while both are situated in heritage buildings of the old city, Dravidia’s atmosphere is less welcoming to the “common man”, and it’s hard to imagine an audience that is not connected to the art circles, or an upper middle-class crowd inside its spaces. Uru, on the other hand, has chosen a space that is in closer proximity to the local audiences. Situating themselves in the renovated TKM hall, right beside Abad Fisheries in Mattancherry, the design of Uru art “harbor” is much more urban in its concept than it seems- it is arguable that this might be part of their vision, bringing urban art and perspectives into the community they are engaging with. Uru’s position in promoting indigenous aesthetics is an unanswered question, in this sense. On a broader perspective, the aesthetics of both shows seem to be stooped in conservative or misunderstood perceptions of contemporary art. But, it would be harsh to judge their vision on the basis of their first show, and more importantly, in less than a week of them opening their doors.  What is promising is that both shows have remained true to their declarations – Dravidia, which had first opened as a hub for artists to get together, and Uru, with inclusivity of the local community as one of their primary concerns, have successfully drawn in their respective audience. At the end of the day, “Kalayanam” had showcased a wide range of works, and “Mattancherry” had drawn in a significant amount of local participation for its opening. Uru’s marketing to the community is noteworthy- utilizing the aesthetics of street photography, simple and clean designs to help the public connect with their vision. Dravidia was successful in muting itself out of the show it had envisioned to put artists in the forefront and give them the much required space- one can hope that the gallery builds on this start, and does not limit its scope by imposing its own politics on future shows. Uru, on the other hand, would probably struggle to operate in a similar fashion, but then again, that is not their priority or direction. Riyas Komu has successfully translated the popularity of the KMB to turn enough heads in Uru’s direction – and it has time on its side to pioneer significant movements based out of Mattancherry. In a sense, the two galleries could complement each other’s activities and visions if they decided to work together. For now, all one can do is wait patiently for whatever may be in store.

Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi

Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi is an independent writer and film-maker. She has more than a decade of experience working with leading National and International Non-Government Organisations in India, Africa, and South America. She is the Founder Managing Trustee of Ekalokam Trust for Photography and the Executive Editor of PhotoMail.

Arjun Ramachandran

Arjun Ramachandran is a young photographer, with interests in cinema and literature.

Gautham Ramachandran

Gautham Ramachandran is an upcoming artist who works with Photography, Printmaking, and Painting. He is a graduate of The Govt. College of Fine Arts, Thrissur where he received his degree in Painting, and completed his Masters in Printmaking from the SN School of Arts and Communication, Hyderabad.

Published on August 20, 2017


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The LGBTQ community has found for itself public spaces in urban regions. We will wait and see what they want to tell the world from that space. After all, solidarity with the cause does not mean solidarity with the acts, and it is time for the community to begin to act convincingly. This exhibition is a good starting point, and further on, there is a desperate need for clarity on the part of the activist-artists.


Elements and Fragments, Uncovering Narratives of a Temple Town

Inasmuch, every photographer that ever visited Tiruvannamalai never took notice about anything other than Ramana and the Annamalaiyar temple – their eyes glossing over everything else and their focus devoted entirely to the two ‘divine’ icons. But, there remains a Tiruvannamalai beyond, which has gone unnoticed and undocumented – invisible to the colonial gaze that is pre-occupied with its exotic fairy tales, and underwhelming for the photojournalist due to its perceived mundane-ness.