Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Bullock cART

In Ilango's words, "A sleeping line is like a poised lady, and when it is moving - a charged bull." His palette knife demo also explained the layers… of seeing art through his art process. His speed reminds me of MFH… but they cannot be compared really.

This is no cock and bull story though it has many bulls featured. The subject is drawings and etchings by artist and mathematician AV Ilango. Most of his works are titled Jallikkattu - a name for the charged bull fight - a traditional south Indian sport - equivalent to the spanish bull fight.

Artist Ilango, a 63 year old mathematician (an enlightened senior wise man) from Chennai, now visiting UAE is hosted by the TP Seetharam, the ambassador of India to the UAE. Ilango gave a talk on the concept of space and relativity in art and it was amazing… very organic and spiritual. I am blogging before I sit down to write my interview with him… because this chat took me to many layers of my own identity today as a human being… as I take baby steps into spiritual understanding while studying my roles as an artist and a writer.

Why was I drawn to this chat so much more than usual art talks?


1. Bulls: I never grew up with them like the artist. But I come from a family that raised bulls for sport. Jallikkattu is not a new word for my ears. My Tamilian side of the family, staunch Shaivaites, that they were once upon a time, are also responsible for preserving many ancient forms of arts/sports to date in its full vigour. I remember my second cousins Jithu and Jeevan, blushing while mentioning that their grand dad used to name his family race bulls on their names. Can you believe it! But for those drunk enthusiasts of a feisty country sport, it is their ego, that is their most precious everything… as precious as their names or their grandchild's for that matter at stake. Ilango's bulls took me back to some really old memories... of red-laterite clay smothered men in paddy fields. Of them frolicking after the fall from that piece of wood that helped them surf around when the bulls sped across the paddy fields… those fields that resembled the hues of a big pot of tea or strong coffee. Very vague memory.

Artist Ilango's live art demo… on application of space and light.

 Ilango's bulls on display at India House… most of them now have a red dot on them [meaning sold!]

2. Shiva connection: Though not so religious, my favourite deity from the Hindu trinity happens to be the artist's favourite too. I know I should ideally follow my preference after his as he is much senior, but truly I love lord shiva, the hermit god who lives in Kailas [believed to be some where in Himalayas but kailas is also symbolic… this not many tourist guides will agree to!]. Ilango's thoughts ran from Shiva - the all knowing to Nandi - the bull which serves as the mount of the god Shiva. Ilango loves every bit of shiva symbolism and like the deity himself does not belong to any obligations/distractions [made by humans in the name of religion].  I have grown up listening to the symbols and stories from my folks. My maternal ancestors are Shaiva Vellalars - a small sect within Hindu community in the south of India who follow Shiva as opposed to the vast majority of Vaishnavas [followers of lord Vishnu and his avatars]. I am not so sure of what that means exactly in all its context - to be a Shaivite. But in today's chat much of that surfaced.

To make the speaker comfortable I mentioned I do know a bit about the shiva followers as my family is also one… he automatically started speaking to me in Tamil. I was embarrassed because I can only nod in Tamil… and not really make anything more out of it… thanks to my growing up in Delhi. Anyway folks spoke a very unique language called Talayalam [Tamil mixed with Malayalam - yes that is a bluvian word… not found in dictionaries so don't google].

From the artist I learn that the S.Vellalars are/were strict lord Shiva followers… 'so staunch that they would not visit the Tirupati Balaji temple (Balaji is lord Vishnu's avatar)', he says. Well this explains why we never had a Balaji picture in our pooja room, back home. As a child the artist was a hostler. The school was run by Vellalars (the same sect of Hindus). He tells me they were keepers of knowledge and even today though we are living in an age and time of ultimate distraction, these things (he means Shaiva versus Vaishnava rage) exist. According to him the Jallikkattu (the fight) is permanent… and exists in many layers. "The jallikattu to ban the jallikattu sport is now between the people and the government," he says. I loved that explanation.

Below is my grand mom doing her usual rituals without bothering to discipline anyone onto following anything she does… but she is the best story teller in the world!

3. Nature & Childhood: I was happy to know that Ilango in his 60s still recreates what he was enamoured by as a 10year old. He shared vivid memories of his spare time spent at farms and cotton fields…. and it took me back to mine. As a child I remember climbing trees, eating flowers and playing with sticky mud. And even though I have plenty of other creative distractions today… am eternally in love with those old memories… and I virtually still stick my paint brush to those days until today when I sit down with my canvas. I love nature and its movement… I love to etch them on my canvas using thick impasto techniques… and sculpt with bare hands. It is after decades that I got a chance to mould at a workshop in a gallery in Dubai [FN Studio at Al Quoz, last month]. The sculpture is my response to 'how you feel in Dubai'. If you look close, the Title calls for deeper philosophical explanation but I guess I will leave it for now.

Many interesting anecdotes and stories from Ilango that you will love to read. They are educational as well as entertaining… full of information and down right spiritual.  He is accompanied by two other artists from Chennai who also presented their version of 'Jallikkattu'… the full story/interview with the artist will soon be out in my writing spots. Stay tuned!

Leaving you with this beautiful quote:

"When you get a moment to spare, do not look down into your mobile and search for relationships… instead concentrate on your breath that you draw in and out… while you do that draw your attention to the point between your eyebrows,"

- AV Ilango.

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