Nemom Pushparaj’s paintings warn of dystopia among us
It is said that artists do not tell stories. They just show. If art is the medium and the artist the messenger, then Nemom Pushparaj is very clear about what he wants to show. It’s all there on the canvas like a record – disturbing, disturbing, fantastic and reflecting collective memories and hidden fears. For him, painting is a means of exploring – and perhaps exorcising – what might otherwise remain unspeakable. “Making a painting can reveal your innermost thoughts and feelings,” Nemom Pushparaj says of “Dystopia,” an exhibition that traces the transformation of his artistic journey and the evolution of his pictorial language.
(Photo: Jipson Sikhera)
“I couldn’t draw much when I was President of Kerala Lalithakala Akademi. Even during the Covid period, when none of the art galleries were open, we tried to support the artists on whom the pandemic took a heavy toll, financially. On those days, I was just sketching out my thoughts to work on for a later day. Some of them have now been turned into paintings after adding more elements to give a bigger picture,” he says.
For someone who loves browns and earthy colors, Pushparaj says he has now added more colors including reds and blues to his palette. Among the sixty works exhibited are some of his last paintings produced this year. “It’s probably because I haven’t been able to do much in the last few years that I painted them very quickly. It was almost as if I was in a hurry to convert those thoughts into images.
He insists he is not making any political statements, but the paintings reflect what is on many minds. “Although it is called ‘Dystopia’, it is not fantasy. Much of it has been processed around me. There are several events that hurt or disturb us a lot. It bubbles up inside us and many of us find a way to get them out. I put them on my paintings and sculptures. I know I might be misunderstood. Yet most of the people who came to me after seeing my works belonged to two groups: some said the paintings reflected what they had in mind while others were worried about my safety,” he says.
Many paintings cover the themes of justice and equality. In the “trial”, we see judges and lawyers hiding their faces, bringing home the idea that the trials are a travesty. It depicts an evil vulture sitting on the edicts, a judge on the high seat with many faces, and a headless lady justice. The chessboard is another symbol used to reflect the balance of justice.
In another work, titled “Oasis”, skyscrapers are seen and elephant-headed butterflies flutter around them in the swirling sky. In the middle is a pram stuffed with wild flowers of all kinds.
Pushparaj likes to use masks to tell stories of lies and duplicity. In “The Salesman”, the pitchman appears as a representative of the market’s exploiting class who sell masks of historical figures by capitalizing on their popularity. “That’s what’s happening. Every great historical figure is used as a tool to peddle a particular idea or ideal,” he says.
He admits to being influenced by Salvador Dali who himself makes an appearance in one of the paintings. “There was a time when surrealism appeared in my paintings influenced by Dali. But slowly I made a conscious effort to break out of it and create a more hyper-realistic style of painting,” he says. While in some works he made a marked turn towards socio-political realism, Indian mythology is central to several other works.
The elephant god Ganesha is for him the highest symbol of surrealism and it appears in several of his works. Vultures, cows, stags, horses, elephants, Greek and Egyptian gods are among other popular figures that make an appearance in his canvases.
“I don’t believe in modern art. As an artist, I believe in communicating clearly so that anyone who sees my painting understands what I mean. Still, I find fantasy to be handy in telling the story face-to-face,” he says.
The exhibition at Durbar Hall in Ernakulam is until August 20.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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