Kochi: Among the various internationally-acclaimed installations at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale ’14 is Malayalam Project that strives to draw the world’s attention towards the regional language and script.
A partner project at the Biennale, Malayalam Project is a collaborative forum that experiments with Malayalam letterform and typography. Kochi-based firms Thought Factory Design and Viakerala have put together this typography cum graphic design exhibition in collaboration with Riyas Komu, secretary of the Kochi Biennale.
“In the digital era, where imagery is used to communicate ideas, words become canvas of graphic. We are looking at how Malayalam, which is either a sound or a text enters the visual age we live in,” said the creative director Theresa Joseph George.
Pointing out that her firms have done lot of research into the field of Malayalam typography, Theresa, who is also a graphic designer, says, “Malayalam script with its loopy curves provides immense scope for experimentation.”
Riyas Komu also said that from a designer’s point of view, Malayalam has a beautiful script. “The project is also an investigation into Kerala’s rich literary heritage,” he added.
Walk into their venue at Lilly Street, and you would be greeted by some of the best known literary characters of the past century. The old cracked walls of their venue on Lilly Street stand proudly with classic texts screen printed on to them. Reading through these excerpts would transport you back into the worlds of Indulekha, Chemmeen and Premalekhanam, among others.
While admitting that a non-reader of the language may not be able to fully appreciate the project, Theresa said that they have used the “alphabet as a metaphor for the larger culture and people”. “Metaphors from Malayalam when illustrated by artists go beyond the barrier of 'reading' because they can be interpreted visually. So, the exhibit may in fact be more interesting to a non-reader because they can see these values within the form of the letters,” she explained.
Over 50 artists have collaborated with the project, who have tried to give a modern rendition of generic words or phrases through various mediums of photomontages, illustrations, calligraphy and graphic designing.
Talking about his own work sadacharam bag that is on display at the Malayalam Project, Riyas Komu said it is his reaction towards the recent issue of moral policing. “By splitting the word into ‘sada’ (meaning always) and ‘charam’ (ashes), I have tried to highlight this social misery. Some elements are trying to polarize our society and we need to reanalyze the situation.”
Veteran calligraphy artist Narayana Bhattatiri, whose art work titled eri pori sancharam (meaning restlessness) is featured at the Malayalam project, says that he has used narrow pen strokes for eri pori and bold, swaying ones for sancharam, to bring out the visual essence of the phrase. While lauding the effort gone into the project, Bhattatiri said but for the space constraint, the exhibition would have garnered more attention.
Commenting on the response for the project, Theresa said: “Those who have come to the venue have interacted with the space and reacted to it – which is great! And we are also documenting the project and publishing it online.
“Also, the Malayalam Project will be part of many more visual-based exhibitions this year. It will evolve each year as the question of Malayalam identity keeps changing or growing,” she added.