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Students’ Biennale: A Look at Pineapple Farm and Thorns of Nature’s Fury

In Kochi
February 16, 2019

Ahalya Raj chose to use to depict the violence humans inflict upon nature, because she has herself been a victim of the calamity that struck her native Kerala last year. At an old-world godown in Mattanchery, the young artist has a painting that gives a panoramic view of one’s surroundings rich with detail — pleasant and poignant.

Ahalya is a participant at the Students Biennale. Her work titled ‘Lives of Land’ has been put up at Mohammed Ali Warehouse in Mattanchery. The spirit behind it emerges from her “worst experience” to see her hilly village in downstate Kollam district falling victim to massive landslides during the floods of August 2018.

“I try to portray such (artistic) content that makes me think more,” says Ahalya, a final-year student at the College of Fine Arts Thrissur. Hailing from an agricultural family in green and rugged Thenmala near Punalur, her works focus on scenes from farming. Pineapples, to be precise. “For, they are a major part of agriculture in my part of Kerala, where you find them grown among rubber trees in vast estates,” she says. “The colour combination of the fruit inspires me to make pineapple a major theme of my painting. In fact, I go on to paint any figure of my interest that would suit my landscape.”

At the warehouse in the heritage town, Ahalya’s painting on a curved canvas is five feet high and 15 feet wide. Done with acrylic wash, copy wash and charcoal, the mixed-media painting depicts the shade of a ripe pineapple that is golden yellow colour. All the drawings in the paintings are things the artist sees around her.

“Fertile earth is the most crucial element for a rich harvest. Hence, soil is a major theme in my works,” says the 22-year-old artist at the show that runs parallel to the Kochi-Muziris Biennale whose fourth edition is on till March 29. “I prefer realism rather that abstract renditions. I worked with oil pastels and charcoals on this painting to lend clarity to the beauty of the colours on the canvas.”

Artist M P Nishad is the curator of the segment of the Students’ Biennale that features Ahalya’s work. “The artist’s inclination for realism is praiseworthy, so is her use of colours,” says the 46-year-old, who graduated from MS University, Baroda. “Depiction of the Kerala floods and landslides gives it added relevance.”

The Students’ Biennale has around 200 participants, including those from the SAARC countries, in the programme run by the Kochi Biennale Foundation in association with the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art and the Foundation for Indian Art and Education.

Students’ Biennale is led by a team of six curators: Sanchayan Ghosh, Shruti Ramalingaiah, Krishnapriya C P, K P Reji and Shukla Sawant besides Nishad. The participants had been selected through an open call for applications from art students to activate ideas around ‘Making as Thinking’.