‘Muthukulam – Backwater Narratives’ – works on canvas, rice paper and sculpture by Suresh Muthukulam
At: Gallery Art & Soul, Mumbai in collaboration with Gallery Dravidam, Bangalore
Born in 1971, Suresh Muthukulam grew up in the small village of Muthukulam in the verdant backwaters and the rice bowl of Kerala. Even as a two year old, he would spend hours drawing and painting and later pursued his passion to become a visual artist. His first formal education was in the gurukulam system after which he completed a four year Fine Arts course. He travelled widely in Kerala visiting temples and palaces where he was so inspired by the ancient Kerala murals, that he went on to do a course in mural painting. He had the unique privilege of training under the legendary guru of Mural art, Sree Mammiyoor Krishnakutty Nair at Guruvayoor. Over the last two decades, Suresh has broken the barriers of his deep rooted training in the Kerala mural style and has carved for him an unmistakeable niche where the traditional merges effortlessly with a contemporary style. He sometimes mingles myth with everyday images of rural Kerala replete with charming portrayals of native life in mythical contexts.
Aranmula in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala saw the worst of nature’s fury in the recent flood devastation in Kerala. Suresh and his family were marooned on the roof of their home on the banks of the river Pamba for a week. He talks of fear, the deep sense of loss, moving images of people reaching out to each other cutting across caste, class and religious barriers, of dark clouds, sunshine and ultimately faith in a better tomorrow. Putting brush to canvas after this life-changing experience has been for him, a catharsis.
Suresh Muthukulam’s eye never fails to observe details and nuances which he then translates, in his whimsical trademark style, onto canvas, paper or even sculpture, borrowing elements from his early training in the traditional mural style. In his current series ‘Muthukulam – Backwater Narratives’, Suresh captures the spirit of life in Kuttanad in an aesthetic that he nurtures. The works symbolise a longing for the bygone, the terrifying floods and always, hope – whispering hope. His works take the viewer on a nostalgic journey through an almost lost world which has been Suresh Muthukulam’s theatre of life and his inspiration.
“Since I studied the Kerala Mural technique, I still apply rekha pradanayam to divide a subject, much else of my current work draws from my training in Fine Art where I familiarised myself with the contemporary form. In my student days at Guruvayoor, the devalokam occupied me. I lived an almost spiritual existence and contemporary forms made way for celestial beings. When I completed my course, I came back ‘home’ in more ways than one. I left the all-encompassing spiritual world to return to the profanity of my village and home. At Guruvayoor, we woke up every morning to the sound of the Sahasranamam and when I returned to Muthukulam, this was replaced by the early morning sounds of Kuttanad. I draw my inspiration from the moment – it could be the joyous whistling of a toddy tapper as he hurtles by on his bicycle, the evening West wind which tempts the coconut palms to sway like a mudiyattam – flaying tresses of a ritualistic performer or even the fragrance of jasmines adorning the hair of young village maidens. This directs me to an image which then becomes my focus. I pick up my brush and my creative instincts come alive and the canvas begins to breathe.”
Suresh Muthukulam as told to Jaya Mani