The Tamil Nadu Assembly elections are just around the corner, and all statues and busts of political leaders across the state have been covered with gunny bags. It is the norm, which is followed in every election to ensure that voters are not influenced when they are en route to cast their votes on election day.
Far away from the brouhaha around elections near a picturesque town in Tirunelveli district, renowned painter and sculptor G Chandrasekaran aka Chandru, is busy working on a project to pay tribute to the state’s noble and inspiring personalities, who have contributed to Tamil society, polity, arts, literature and culture.
Politics, in all its ugly shapes and forms, has no part to play at Guruvanam, a public park spread over five acres of land, which is situated near Ambasamudram in Tirunelveli district.
It is here this former principal of Chennai’s Government Fine Arts College, who has worked on a wide range of media in his long career as an artist, is hard at work trying to set up a public gallery, which will display the busts of great people who have made significant contributions to Tamil Nadu. The 600 busts, which are being made by the senior artist and his students, will be done in fibre casting.
This dream project was initially conceived in a place allotted by the Tirunelveli district administration. However, this proposal was dropped as they feared it may lead to people creating trouble over the absence or presence of leaders and scholars from particular castes and religions.
In fact, Chandru, who is known for his “strong opinions” has made a decision not to display a bust connected to any caste, religion or political groups in this gallery. He said, “When I took up the project in 2020, I decided not to make a bust that is linked to any caste, religion or political groups.” Instead, he has divided the sculptures into four categories.
Explaining the different groups he hopes to divide the gallery into, Chandru said, “One set will involve the busts of notable personalities born in Tamil Nadu such as the great poet Bharathiar, while another will showcase Tamils born in other countries like Arumuka Navalar, a Sri Lankan Tamil scholar. A third category will feature foreigners who shed light on the pride and glory of TN and its culture like Alexander Rea, the British archaeologist who excavated Adichanallur. And the fourth group will be on foreigners who came to Tamil Nadu, learned the Tamil language and lived here like Robert Caldwell.”
The personalities he has chosen are known for their achievements in their respective fields.
In 2019, for example, Chandru made a bronze bust of Iravatham Mahadevan out of his admiration for the epigraphists’ contribution to deciphering Tamil Brahmi inscriptions and interpretations of the seals and symbols of the Indus valley civilisation.
It does not matter what ideology or religion they followed, he observed. “Whether the ideology they followed got them success or not, they stood for the cause they believed in till the end. More than any other culture, the love and kindness towards others without showing any differences, is the best culture in the world. I hope, this public gallery will kill the hate in us and grow more love,” said Chandru, who has also taken up the cause of unsung heroes of Dalits as well.
Chandru has taught for more than four decades at the Government Fine Arts College, and has many stunning artworks to his name, including the sculpture of revolutionary communist leader Vladimir Lenin in Tirunelveli.
Nearly 70 of his former and current students are involved in his current project. As of now, about 30 busts have been made, each costing about ₹30,000 to craft. Donors are welcome to contribute, he said, and their names etched in metal will be placed beside the bust.
After his retirement, Chandru founded a fine arts college for the differently-abled in Tirunelveli district in 2015. It is a first-of-its kind college in the state, which offers a full time three-year sculpture course.
Chandru’s focus has always been on studying people’s behaviour and their culture. “I always teach my students to travel and meet people. I ask them to study their behaviour and culture. It is from people you learn a lot than spending time on a canvas,” he said.
In his view, globalisation and consumerism have created a lot of pressure on people. “We need to remind people time and again, about the importance of living harmoniously with nature. I do it through my sculptures,” Chandru said, adding that this park will also have 160 kinds of native trees.
The gallery is expected to be inaugurated in the last week of March this year.