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Krishnakumar’s works exhibited at biennale
 Story Dated: Tuesday, December 25, 2012 18:31 hrs IST 
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An artist at Aspinwall
Kochi: Two of the late sculptor painter K P Krishnakumar's works, who ended his life 23 years ago, have been exhibited at the Kochi Muziris binnale, now on here.

A day after Christmas 23 years ago, Krishnakumar woke up, sipped tea, shaved his stubble and took a wash before walking out well dressed. What the young sculptor-painter did next crippled a revolutionary pan-Indian art movement, leaving his fellow activists puzzled till date over the reason behind the extreme act.

At age 31, the exuberant Malayali committed suicide. He made a strong rope by twining thinner ones, pegged it down from the wooden ceiling and hanged himself to death. That was on December 26, 1989. He is the only late artist featuring in the countrys pioneering art show that began a fortnight ago.

Not many visitors at Fort Kochi Pepper House and Durbar Hall in downtown Ernakulam know this sombre side of an otherwise colourful festival, its organisers point out.

'Krishnakumar was an extraordinarily bold artist,' says Riyas Komu, a co-curator of the three-month event. The inclusion of his works at the Biennale is our token of respect to him and the unique movement.

Krishnakumars movement was brief; it lasted just a couple of years. But his works had a fiery effect on the countrys art scene, courtesy the brilliance and charisma of the frontline leader who studied and worked in places like Thiruvananthapuram, Santinikentan, Gujarat and Delhi.

As art scholar Geeta Kapur, who is involved in Indias first Biennale, notes, Krishnakumar's Kerala-Baroda group hammered out a militant agenda, arguing that Indian art required a radical interrogation of political and aesthetic issues. He used the figural gesture, often profoundly comic, to taunt the viewer and also to signal faith in the sculptural presence itself. He hoped to reinscribe a lost humanism in the local liberationist politics of his home-state of Kerala, she adds.

Krishnakumars Leftist manifesto, which openly denounced the commodification of art, may sound quaint to many in todays art world. But some of his friends from that era, who are participating in the ongoing Biennale, hold the man's ideologies aloft.

With the participation of artists Jyothi Basu, Anita Dube, K Raghunathan, Alex Mathew and K Prabhakaran, the Aspinwall House in Fort Kochi will see the first-ever Krishnakumar memorial meeting anywhere.

He recalls how the radical movement was born in 1987 when a set of interactive Malayali artists launched a scheme called Questions and Answers in Baroda, having failed to organise an exhibitions of south Indians in Delhi. Anita (Dube) was the only non-Malayali artist to cooperate with us, he adds.

Their contempt for the Indian elite looking at art from a British point of view found support from artists such as T K Hareendran, Alexander Devasia, E H Pushkin, Anoop Panikkar, K R Karunakaran and C Pradeep. Senior scholars sensed insolence in it, only prompting more youths to join the movement.

Among them was Vivan Sundaram, who has an acclaimed installation at the Biennale and is, incidentally, husband of Geeta Kapur. The artists in the movement left Baroda for native Kerala the next year.

Soon they floated the Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association in Kozhikode. Their debut exhibition in February 1989 in that Malabar city proved hugely popular, inspiring spread of activity to villages. Its pinnacle was a 10-day art workshop at a village in central Keralas Thrissur district the same year. Ten days after its conclusion in Allappad on December 16, the news came that Krishnakumar is dead. That saddened us, shrugs Raghunathan. We couldnt bounce back.

Almost a quarter century since, Krishnakumar's mother Ammalukutty Amma was invited to join the inaugural function of the Biennale on 12/12/12. Back in her home at Pattambi of Palakkad district, she still treasures 50-old paintings of her legendary son.
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