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Far from civilisation, one with nature
NIDHI GUPTA  2nd Sep 2012

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hrough a vast canvas, a girl no more than four years old peers at you with a grimace on her lips, a bindi on her forehead and immense trepidation in her eyes. She's a child of the wild, standing in a thicket of bamboo, and is joined by a blood-red dragonfly which also peers at you curiously. Another girl in another canvas, painted purple as the colour of night, happily munches on some leaves as she communes with a bird, her large liquid eyes also glimmering with a purity of being. For artist K.G. Babu, these people belonging to the Kadar, Malaya and Kurichya tribes of Kerala, essayed in 36 portraits as part of his latest solo show, have got the right idea on what constitutes the good life. Oneness with nature alone is of essence.

In this solo show titled In Spirit with Nature, Babu uses photorealistic images to comment upon how far urban lifestyle has come from mankind's originally intended trajectory. His own childhood experience of living near the forest in Kerala, followed by a forced distance from this state of happiness as he worked in an urban environment and finally a sense of disillusionment that caused his return, has strengthened his belief that the tribals know the truth of life. "Development and culture have an inverse relationship – the more man tries to 'develop', synchronise himself with myriad machines and aspirations for money, the more barbaric he gets," states Babu.

Distortions explain the magnification he wants to highlight. Humans and nature dance together, both free in a beautiful universe. — Tanya Abraham

On his many travels through Kerala's lush tropics, he has witnessed how nature and living beings, both animals and humans, survive as one thriving eco-system. He depicts this harmony by painting his protagonists in the colours of their surroundings – a mother with her child in her arms are camouflaged by the night and dense forest cover, all seamlessly purple. It's almost as if the forest protects them from the unhealthy gaze of 'civilisation' attempting to draw them into its unhealthy fold.

"The Cholam Naikar tribe, all of 50 people, reside deep in the forests of Nilambur. The government, in their development drive, have built houses, but these concrete structures lay bare as the tribals have unanimously decided against using them," he says by way of illustration. Changes like this have started coming in, he adds, but they don't like it. Clearly, he doesn't either, as he spells out his contrite disapproval through the portrait of the middle aged, heavily whiskered man with furrowed brows.

This collection of paintings can be said to exhibit social realist leanings. As London-based art critic and curator Pernilla Holmes once observed, portraiture in contemporary art serves "to comment on larger issues, such as individual identity, social inequities, politics, celebrity obsession." Babu takes off from this point and imbues his figures with a hint of magical realism, specifically in their eyes, akin to those of moths and dragonflies. He says the distortion is of entire bodies, but then, what would seem distorted to us is quite in tune with nature. As curator of this show, Tanya Abraham puts it, "Distortions explain the magnification he wants to highlight. Humans and nature dance together, both free in a beautiful universe."

Venue: NIV Arts Centre

Date: Until 10 August


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