His mural artwork showcased at the ongoing Kochi Muziris Biennale at Aspinwall House in Fort Kochi is so impressive that even Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan spent a few minutes with the artist, P K Sadanandan.
The artist is one of the leading proponents of Kerala mural art. Sadanandan’s 50-ft wide and 10-¼ ft high piece titled 12 Stories (of the 12 Progeny) tells tales from the Parayi Petta Panthiru Kulam, a Kerala legend about 12 kulams (families born to the Parayi or women of the ‘pariah’ caste).
“Here is one such story of Varaduji, a Brahmin scholar,” says Sadanandan. “On a pilgrimage, he stopped near the banks of the Bharatapuzha river in Kerala, where he saw a house and decided to rest there.” There he came across a beautiful girl and married her. When he came to know she wasn’t a Brahmin but a Parayi, he was expelled from his community.
There is an underlying message in these stories. “Too much attention is being given to caste and religion,” he says. “At a point, these issues were not that important in our society. I also speak about the relevance of fate, the caste system, and the role of family and society.”
The unusual aspect of Sadanandan’s work is that he uses natural colours. The yellow colour is got by scraping an arsenic stone from Afghanistan. For black, an oil lamp is placed under a clay pot for a week. The ensuing soot is then scraped and mixed with water to create a black paste. Glue is taken from a neem tree.
“My assistants Anish A K, Joby John, Anish Kuttan and I start working at 8 am and continue till 9 pm,” says Sadanandan. “The piece will be completed by the end of the 108-day biennale that concludes on March 29.”
This quality of work ensures that it lasts for centuries. “The paintings at Ajanta and Ellora have lasted for so long because the artists used natural colours,” he says.
Meanwhile, as visitors stream in, there is a palpable excitement on Sadanandan’s face. “I have learnt everything at the feet of my guru Mammiyur Krishnan Kutty Nair from Guruvayur. I have been practising for the past 30 years,” he says. “But I never got an opportunity to showcase my work for the international community.”