Kochi: When curator Jitish Kallat expounded the Whorled Exploration theme of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) 2014 to Parvathi Nayar, she felt that it was written for her. “I thought, ‘great, I can push my craft’,” said the artist, whose works are installed at a waterfront room at the Aspinwall House which is the main venue of the ongoing exhibition.
Nayar’s ‘The Fluidity of Horizons’ are a suite of drawings that makes references to the long history of travel and trade on the Malabar Coast, opening with depictions of ancient and modern navigation tools. The opening piece is inspired by the form of an astrolabe, a device once used by astronomers and navigators to determine time and the position of the celestial bodies, and leads on to drawings of Google Map coastlines.
There is a mysterious whorled shell, a drawing plotting the path of sub-atomic particles and giant peppercorn looming over the Arabian Sea. Backed by the sounds of the sea and water, it’s not difficult for the visitor to almost see the waves move and hit the beach, and imagine themselves on a sea voyage.
While the drawings may seem the most old-fashioned in the contemporary context of the biennale, Nayar says that “the contemporariness is in the manner of presentation; and the opportunity to change the environment for the viewer.”
The detailing on the works is intricate, but the lack of colour—the paintings are all black and white—give a stark, minimal feel to the drawings. “These are two parts of me that I was juggling,” says Nayar, who did a Masters’ in Fine Arts at London’s prestigious Central St Martins. “The Indian in me has that fondness for intricacy, which is part of our philosophy and our religions. And there is the other part that has a very austere, rigorous underpinning. They are seemingly opposing forces, but at the end of it, they are very Indian strains, and I feel I can benefit from the two.”
While the core of her practice is graphite on wood, the artist-writer also does video, photography and book-making with an underlying philosophy of scientific principles. This comes not from “consciously looking to include different aspects, but if you are able to bring many things into your art, why not?” she says.
Commenting on her work, Jitish says that, "starting with a single graphite dot Nayar makes works that evoke a sense of abstraction through a celebration of detail, often bordering on scientific precision”. “Her detailed graphite drawings within the exhibition connect the telescopic with the microscopic,” he says. “While one work is inspired by the astrolabe used by astronomers to determine time and location, another work takes us into the vibrant subatomic world of ever drifting particles."
“I want to portray the world that the viewer knows well a little differently,” says Nayar, whose mother and maternal grandparents were artistically-inclined. “My art straddles the lines between abstract and reality via science and makes people rethink their identities.”
The 108-day KMB is “currently the most amazing platform to show art”, she notes. “You feel like you are the latest traveller to here,” says Nayar, who came back to live in Chennai after a successful stint as an artist in Singapore.