When artist Siji Krishnan received invitation to the 7th Moscow International Biennale of Contemporary Art to exhibit her paintings, she was undeterred by the prospect of going to a foreign land. Russia was a country embedded in many of her childhood memories. It was a land she had traveled before through the many famous Russian children’s stories and the Russian novels.
She never knew she would one day travel to the land of her childhood dreams. But what she took with her was her own childhood spent in a little village in Kerala.
The little mischiefs of childhood
Siji’s works are a play with memory, mostly from her childhood. “When we were kids, we used to build play houses, marry our best friends with necklaces made from the soft parts of tapioca stems, cook imaginary meals with sand, leafs, and barks. We had vivid imagination. We were close to the nature, we would climb the trees and roam around without a care in the world. These are the things I put on the canvas.
I was worried about how they would receive my art. But the positive responses surprised me. Those who did not speak English used a translator to tell me that their children too played games like kids in my paintings. The fact that it resonated with them, that children are the same anywhere in the world was a refreshing and insightful knowledge.”
For Siji, the toughest challenge in Moscow was the language barrier. Very few Russians speak English. But life, with all the complications, was the same. It was Google Map which came to Siji’s rescue in her journey outside Moscow.
Walk through memory lanes
Siji’s paintings in watercolor revisits some of her cherished childhood memories. She paints on canvas smoothly over-layered with fine rice paper brought from Nepal. This renders a brittle and leafy quality to the paintings in accord with the transient nature of their subject. The memories are fleeting, fragile and layered, like the frail surface on which they are painted.
The paintings also portray life from Siji’s village in Mavelikkara in Alappuzha district where she grew up, her experiences with people and nature, the networks and ties between individuals and the complex yet simple flow of village life.
Siji says, “My paintings are a walk through memory lanes. I was influenced most by my father. He was my mentor and inspiration; I saw the world through him. His death in 2008 was a huge shock. I did the series ‘Lullaby’ in his memory. In the self-portrait called ‘Wings’, I became the little bird ready to take off from the palm of his hand.”
Road to Moscow
Siji took her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Raja Ravi Verma College, Mavelikkara. She procured her Masters in Fine Arts in 2007 from Sarojini Naidu School of Fine Arts, Hyderabad. She was a participant in the Lalithakala Academy Annual Exhibition in 2004 and an invited artist in the first Muziris Biennale held in Kochi in 2012. She came to international limelight with solo exhibition of the series titled ‘The Family Portrait’ in Mumbai and New Delhi. It was at one of the Delhi exhibitions that Siji received invitation to the Moscow Biennale from its curator Yuko Hasegawa, the artistic director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, and Professor of Arts in Tokyo University.
Three of the four paintings exhibited in the Moscow Biennale are portraits of coconut, jackfruit and cashew trees. “I wanted to show the world the goodness of our village life. Many of the visitors agreed that the vanishing of village life also marks the vanishing of a culture. Urbanism can only offer so much to humanity”, says Siji.
Siji lives in Chottanikkara in Ernakulam district. After the Moscow Biennale she would feature her work at the India Art Fair to be held in New Delhi in February.
Moscow (2018), Kochi Miziris (2012)
The Family Portrait (2016), Zero Plus Zero Equals Zero, My Father’s Mathematics (2012), Paternal Instinct (2010)
Kerala Lalithkala Academy Scholarship, Lalithkala Academy Special Mention