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Sculpting in time

Kanayi Kunhiraman has been dogged by controversies all his life. Yet, the creator of `Yakshi' remains steadfast to his principles.


MASTER AT WORK: Kanayi Kunhiraman

You would not credit this soft-spoken man with a penchant to walk into controversies. But this is exactly what Kanayi Kunhiraman did practically every time he unveiled one of his sculptures. In an interface with art enthusiasts at the Suryakanti Gallery recently, Kanayi touched upon a range of topics close to his art.

The `Yakshi' in Malampuzha, his most-talked-about work, was also a difficult one, says Kunhiraman, who recalled the days when he collected daily wages after signing the muster-roll along with the masons at the dam site. Driven by the passion to give shape to a huge sculpted form standing tall against the backdrop of the Western Ghats and the vast expanse of the water, he did not stop to think of its impact on closed minds. The beauty of the sculpture was overlooked and the statue came to be associated with the obscene and the vulgar.

Imposing sculptures in public places, he feels, are a method of acquainting the commoner with art.

"Just as a massive statue would be absolutely out of place in a drawing room, a small sculpture would be inconspicuous in the settings of the beach or a dam or a park," he says.

The 105-feet `Mermaid' in concrete on the Shanghumughom beach is in proportion to the horizontal land and the sea beyond. Each piece of art acquires its relevance in the context in which one views it. The placement should be such that the background and the work enrich each other.

The most challenging work till date, he feels, was the statue of EMS. Busts and figures of people with sharp and prominent features are easy to make, but here was a short-statured man with no striking features. Kunhiraman was risking his reputation by taking up the task; if he failed, he would have to hang his head in shame, nay, migrate, for, the legendary leader was so popular that even a child knew him. And therefore he considers this essay his most satisfying experience too.

Kanayi spoke of his days in the Artists' Village, Cholamandalam. Spurred by the urge to learn painting, he found a mentor in K. C. S. Panicker. The switch from painting to sculpting was an accident. Tutored by stalwarts such as Debi Prasad Roy Chowdhury, Kanayi started on sheet metal. His `Amma' demonstrates the fact that an artist draws copiously from the heritage, myth and folklore.

"The artist faces numerous constraints. Institutional patronage is something art cannot do without, for there is a limit to the support individuals, however affluent, can give. This role has to be taken over by the government and the bureaucracy. But instead of looking up to those in power, artists have to unite, display a sporting spirit and start a movement to popularise art," Kanayi says.

"In developed countries, a small percentage of the estimate of a building is earmarked for beautification. If that trend catches up here, art will flourish. We have to disabuse ourselves of the notion that it is infra dig to sell art; if authors can sell books and musicians collect fee for holding concerts, why not artists," he asks.

BHAWANI CHEERATH

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