“Paalam” attempted to help artists overcome their obstacles, and also make art more approachable for public
“There's no blueprint for becoming an artist,” says P. Gopinath reflecting on his days at Cholamandal. “We faced a lot of criticism for what we were doing back then…” he pauses, and smiles at the group of painters and sculptors sitting before him, “people said we were building our own private utopia.”
The perception of Cholamandal as an artist's ivory tower is unsurprising; as is coming across those who believe art is an esoteric, elusive, perhaps, even elitist field.
And it's assumptions such as these that the three-day arts festival “Paalam” attempted to dispel.
Curated by Meena Dadha and organised by Prakrit Arts, the festival's intentions were stated plainly in its name: “Paalam”  a bridge, a structure designed to provide passage over obstacles whilst facilitating a two-way movement.
For the public, the festival made art more approachable, providing the opportunity to talk to artists about their work and discover more about the art world through documentary film screenings and talks by established artists such as Seema Kohli.
It also attempted to help the artists themselves overcome certain obstacles — such as not being able to get their work to reach wider audiences.
“Art is only conducive to the cities,” says artist and lecturer at Stella Maris, Razia Tony. “In the cities, you have an art market, and a platform on which to exhibit your art. But in more remote areas, showing your work isn't as easy. In fact, not being in the city can be a real handicap since you don't have a means of gaining wider exposure.”
Platform for interaction
For the 24 artists who came from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra and Puducherry, “Paalam” provided this platform for exposure. “It's a forum for lesser-known artists to exhibit their talent and interact directly with buyers, enthusiasts, collectors and each other,” says curator Meena Dadha.
“This is the first time that something such as this has been done in Chennai,” adds artist and organiser Kamla Ravikumar. “And, we're so pleased with the response. We wanted to create awareness and support for these artists. Their talent needs to be seen and encouraged.”
Indeed, ‘Spaces' at Elliott's Beach was transformed into of grove of aesthetics. Artists sat on the leafy, sun-dappled area, displaying their works, painting and chatting to whoever happens to wander through. From Warli paintings from Maharashtra to mobile metal sculptures, a diverse range of works and styles was present.
V. Ravindran's bronze works merged the tribal with the modern — the jointed limbs and erect posture of his ‘Warrior' figure called to mind Hans Christian Andersen's fictional Steadfast Tin Solider, although its asymmetrical features and wild created a slightly dark, Burtonian twist.
S. Balu's sheet metal mobiles hung amidst the trees, its various pieces twirling in the breeze. “Wait, just a minute,” he called out, hurrying forward to re-arrange its hanging arms. “Look, it makes a face,” he explained. It did — the separate shapes and lines came together to form eyes, a nose, a mouth.
Surreal colours
Particularly popular with buyers seemed to be Nadees Prabou's phantasmagoric watercolour series — street scenes were splashed with hazy, surreal colours that cast an otherworldly light over the auto-rickshaws and cars that formed the inhabit in his frames.
Although the unique nature of the works exhibited at “Paalam” made it difficult to generalise, they did appear to share a strongly Indian flavour — from C. Pandi Selvam's paintings of old doors and windows he had seen around the country to Mohana Sundaram's caricatured charcoal couples, whose gold jewellery and red pottus stood out against their black-and-white bodies.
Many views
As is evident after three days of walking amidst art and artists, listening to lectures and discussions — everyone has his or her own view of art — of what it is, and what it's trying to do, “Paalam” attempted to facilitate this dialogue, encouraging conversation between the artist and his audience.
Overcoming the obstacles that artists might face, and making art more accessible to a general audience, it provides a middle point where the two worlds can meet. Like a bridge, indeed.