Six artists search for primordial deities in Tamil Nadu villages

A village temple near Tiruvannamalai. The deities, mainly goddesses, are intimately associated with the well-being of the village.

As artists, they met at various arts camps. It was painting over many cups of tea that brought them together. In 2017, they decided to express their ideas collectively. Since then, every year, they would conduct a camp based on a topic and then exhibit the works borne out of the camp together.

In 2021, the team of six conducted art camps in Chennai and Tiruvannamalai based on primordial deities who personify the earth. The artists travelled to the remote villages of Tamil Nadu, collecting legends, stories and myths. There were folk deities, megaliths, cave drawings and hero stones. At some places, they found these images being erased, destroyed and replaced by plastic an instant gratification. The prehistoric anthropomorphic figurine in Mottur in Tiruvannamalai, however, gave them hope because it is being worshipped even today in the form of ‘the mother’.

The six artists–Jacob Jebaraj, Asma Menon, Gita Hudson, Kavitha Prasad, Thejomaye Menon and Shailesh Bo–named their thematic art show ‘Gaia & Gramam’ (Gaia in Greek means earth and Gramam in Tamil village). Jebaraj’s “Deity” derives from his observations–anthropological, historical and social. His ‘Ayyanar’ (guardian deity) is a phantasmagoria layered with sensations, language, memory and perceptions. While Shailesh brings in a narrative frame for yogic figures through which he examines the human conditions, Asma Menon says her works for the show reflect her recent travels to villages and sacred groves.

Gita Hudson giving finishing touches to her work.
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