Monday, April 29, 2013

Lessons learnt from life around reflect in Upendranath T.R.’s practice

What defines the intriguing process of creation of art is the process. It’s something that’s in a state of constant flux for Kerala-born Upendranath T.R. It doesn’t necessarily culminate with the materialization of a work he executes.

The artist from Ponnurunni in Kochi, worked as a mechanic before he actually found his artistic calling. Sans any formal training in art, he takes a cue from the experience gained during his travels as a mechanic across the state as ‘his true masters, just without the degree certificate’. One might argue that it served him far better than time spent in a formal art institution.

Upendranath T.R. continues to draw from the outside world and life around him for his art. Spelling out the unique features of his art practice, an elaborate profile on the Kochi Muziris Biennale notes that working within the offbeat medium of collage, his process primarily relies on adaptation. Both circumstance and available or chosen materials tend to influence the end outcome, as he doesn’t tie himself down to any specific space or fixed idea of his work.

The essay mentions that in speaking with him it’s plainly obvious that he is a person affected heavily by the happenings around him. Though not necessarily intending to pass overt political messages through his works of art, the symbolism rendered especially in his latest series is quite potent. This though, might have occurred at a subconscious level, as he doesn’t like to position himself as an activist.

The piece began with a series of several self-portraits. Head shaven and Naked, the artist denotes this metaphorical and literal ‘stripping down’ as the taking away his mask so as to reveal his true inner identity. By doing so and revealing his true self he is inviting in this way all of us to ‘see his reality’. The shaving particularly exhibiting his earnest desire to be seen as simply ‘human’ – unburdened with the clichéd connotations of (biased) representation. The photographs formed the core of his recent series – snapped in different positions, laid out in collage format with sundry scraps of art magazines. They send a clear message.

He holds a baby palm tree in place of a gun, serving a connection between the artist, the artwork and the Biennale. Palm trees are abundant in Kerala; the name is derived etymologically from Kera (coconut tree) and Lam (land), hence giving the meaning ‘land of the coconut trees’. The baby tree, signifying new life, in place of a gun clearly ties the protagonist (the artist) to his homeland and propagates peace.

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