Lokame Tharavadu.
I thought it was an attractive title for a mega art show. I was reminded of the words

“World is my home
All mankind my brethren
To do good is my religion”

When I was 17, my boyfriend wrote this on the first page on a Dostoevsky novel before he gifted me. He gifted me many Russian novels as they were cheap and extremely political. He was 20, but he was already into, J. Krishnamoorthy and Bertrand Rusell.

So, this much hyped and talked about “All Malayali Artists” engaging 267 of them was arousing everyone’s curiosity. Famous artists, upcoming, happening and dedicated artists, all merging under one banner was definitely inviting... not just for me but all my contemporaries in Tamilnadu. I knew about 30 artists from the list personally and I was familiar with the works of 100 other artists who were part of this show in Alleppey.

I have visited Alleppey four times in my life in the last 20 years. The first trip on the houseboat was in 1999, with my American friend and our excitement never came down for all the 3 days we were there enjoying the scenery all around with hurricane lamps at night and stuffed ourselves with red rice, fried fish and vegetables stew all cooked in fragrant coconut oil. The last trip was 8 years ago and by then the boats transformed to 2 star and 4 star hotel rooms with Wifi and what not!

Alleppey is one of the most beautiful places in India, and to organise an exhibition in this kind of scale is a herculean task no doubt. Two young artists who were part of Lokame Tharavadu, met me at the hotel and told me there were 5 venues and it would take 2 days.

I do have the experiences of gallery hoping like in the national galleries in London, in Delhi and in the USA. My mind would get tired after an hour and I would walk through and finish it with the sole aim of completing or walking through.

But in Lokake Tharavadu, it was surprise after surprise as I walked past paintings, soaking in the stories of Malayali emotion, leisure and angst. It was a treat to my visual sensory, like exploring a small island with all its people, women and children, workers and families, labourers and jack fruit eaters, little homes and dense forests, lives longing for love, passionate people waiting to be loved, toys and guns, trees and boats..

Most of the paintings were like stills from Malayalam literature. massive paintings extremely narrative and powerful small format works too capturing a whole locale to the minutest detail. The display could not have been any better and all the venues were large high walled buildings, with tiled roofs and the exhibits were themselves doubling as creative installations.

There are a few paintings I can still recall. The nude couple who looked like saints, who become the base for a tree made o f numerous cranes. Sreeja Pallam, who painted ordinary people extending them to extraordinary works of art. All her worked were packed together to form a large mural and for some reason we instantly develop a love for all her subjects. She created her own little town full of people she might have admired and loved.

My young friends were also showing and they were wanting to show me their space!

Jaya PS . Her rworks are brave and women centric. Her recent solo titled “Celebrating failure “has portraits of herself and many women, may be her friends or activists, in bold drawings, covered in subtle scribbles and elements from daily life, adding to the drama, like an extended personality of the women in the centre stage. She has definitely created her own identity and signature style.A bare breasted woman with her dog resting on her lap and a rounded young woman with large eyes biting a raw fish..stay in my memory

Sooraja, the other young painter had taken to the stories and politics behind the hair, mainly women. She works on the portrait of hair and we all never thought of the politics and history of hair, women being dragged by hair, or shaven if spouse is dead. This is explored in all her small format canvasses, women drowned by the impediments around. The metaphor used to explain the many stories of women’s life and longings.

There is also this haunting series of small format works in moonlit light in crimson brown background, eyes white, people twinkling and shining like stars in right perspectives doing their chores. I do like realistic paintings though I get a high with abstract ART. This particular set of works, by artist Lem, lovingly realistic, was unusual. Mouth watering and food made glamourous. The kappa and fish curry, avial and puttu, the things that we dream off, all comes in larger than life visuals spread on banana leaves and porcelain plates , reminding us of the culmination of culture in Gods own land.

One of the five venues happens to be inside a coir factory and to witness tons of coir being produced by bare hands helped by simple machines were almost like transforming coconut trees covered Alleppey town to posterity. The new Gen words like sustainability and recycling all seemed so outdated in this premise.

There were works by artists who have connections with Kerala and also some who live and work from Germany and Dubai too. Their works were nostalgic as it should be. The Dubai based artist recalled childhood moments like the teacher yelling at the last bench student and all the rest turn wide eyed with fear and curiosity, The boy counting the change after his shopping trip down the lane, before reporting back to the owner or parents. They were normal stories recalled so affectionately.

But since I am friends with some of the prominent Malayali artists living in Chennai like Achuthan Kudallur, Gopinath or Vishwanathan, I was disappointed not to see their works. I am sure it would have added a lot of value to the show as they have all produced magnificent works in the last 5 decades or so.

I was imagining a show of this sort and Chennai but I couldn’t think or come up with a single venue! Even Lalit Kala Akademi has not had funds to replace broken Air conditioners in the Chennai centre for sometime now. But if the state government takes interest to promote contemporary art like the Kerala politicians who are receptive to arts, we can create a show like this with wonderful paintings and sculptures starting from the madras Art Movement from the 50’s to now.

Benny Kuriakose was involved in Alleppey heritage project and all the renovations were done as part of this mega project and Lokame just happened to happen at the right place, at the right time. The curators name appears everywhere and the artists list is pasted here and there, as we enter venues but going through all the names is just tedious but the art stands out and speak loudly, all paintings and sculptures finding their way into carnival like spaces from their quiet not so famous studio spaces!!

- Gita hudson is a Chennai based artist and documentary filmmaker. She is the Curator of Dakshianchitra Heritage Museum Galleries in Chennai.