Photographs often serve as microhistories; they have that unique characteristic of representing something of the past, and yet belonging to the future. Invariably, a photograph comes from the past, but states its relevance to the present, and further looks towards the future. Personal becomes social and even political, in this magical medium. Any recorded personal moment, when shared, becomes a collective experience. It is then integrated as part of visual anthropology and microhistory. Unlike the alienated his-story of the rulers and the elite, photography offers multiple-layered parallel narratives. Sometimes, of those who do not make it to the official historiography, thanks to their suppressed subalternities or fierce sense of independence. Today, however, we have recognized that even the usually ignored ‘ordinary and irrelevant’ have a place in the making of our histories. This is about one such image and a life story attached to it.
I took this monochromatic image of Chicku (Ramakrishnan) at his house Siva Kripa in Ernakulam, sometime in the 1980s, by using a medium format film camera. Chicku was a painter, graphic designer, short story writer, printer and a melancholic lover. He loved a woman so loyally that he lived in memory of his one and only love. Chicku never got married; instead, he invested himself in his passions such as music, art and writing.
It was at the Kerala Kalapeedam art and cultural center that I met him for the first time. Founded by renowned artist MV Devan in 1978 and situated at the Karaikamuri Cross Road in Ernakulam, Kalapeedam was, in those years, very active and vibrant. On the other hand, the once glorious and celebrated West Kochi islands were becoming sleepy and efforts were being made to develop Ernakulam as a commercial hub. And, for the culturally inclined, Kalapeedam became the center: this small space had a gallery and a garden with an open stage for performances. Indeed a perfect setting for meeting and connecting with likeminded artists.
There were regular events: painting classes, discourses on art, meet the artist sessions, art exhibitions and film projections. These activities were quite new for me and in fact, Kalapeedam was a launchpad for many artists, including myself. I was fortunate to get exposed to the works of several artists, filmmakers, art critics and eminent literary figures of India there. I met younger artists like Kaladharan, George, Sathyan and Bose Krishnamachari. In 1994, my first solo exhibition was held at Kalapeedam. After a long, eventful service to the art circle of the city, Kalapeedam was closed for the public in 2000. Probably the increasing rent and maintenance cost, as well as the lack of a sustainable income generation model, led to its closing. Nonetheless, it left a deep imprint.