Vasudevan Akkitham in the Capital. (Express photo by Renuka Puri)
The visitors started arriving a day before the exhibition at Triveni Kala Sangam opened. Artist Vasudevan Akkitham was still unwrapping his works when artist Manisha Gera Baswani arrived to meet and photograph her old friend, and veteran artist A Ramachandran also called on him before the space got crowded with people. After all, it is not often that Delhi hosts Vasudevan Akkitham.
His solo in Delhi after six years, ‘This Side of the Forest’ at Shridharani Gallery brings together a series of new and old works. If Akkitham experiments with small oils as an interlude to his large acrylics, he also showcases sketches that were never intended to be shared.
Due to retire next year from the Faculty of Fine Art at MS University, Baroda, where he has taught for more than 20 years, Akkitham will now have more time at the studio, but he does not regret his years in classrooms. Some hours each day, he shares, were always reserved for his art practice. “I’ve learned a lot from my teachers and while teaching,” says Akkhitam, 60. Some of his students also appear in the sketches along with family, and also scribbled lists with names of artists. There are also preliminary studies that led to larger works. “The students now depend more on photographic images rather than going to the site and recording things. The traditional skills are now looked at with a sense of suspicion, as other new media is now available,” says the artist.
One of Vasudevan Akkitham work.
It is not until four years ago when artist Rekha Rodwittiya suggested that Akhittam share these intimate sketches, that he considered the proposition. “I have always been a compulsive sketcher… Looking at them now, I realise their importance in the context of my practice,” says Akhittam, who has never been reluctant to open his world to the audience. Perhaps one of his constant engagements, the theme of displacement, too, is a reflection of his own thoughts and struggles.
Born in Kumaranallur village in Kerala, it was art education that brought Akhittam to Baroda. He moved there after two years as a student at College of Fine Arts in Trivandrum, where he also found himself in the midst of student politics. It was an interaction with veteran artist Gulammohammed Sheikh at an art camp in Kerala that convinced him to apply for a course at Baroda. “I struggled initially with settling in, adjusting in the city,” says Akhittam, even as he asks: “But what is home, where do we belong?” Over the years, he has directed several of his viewers to ponder over
Another work by artist Vasudevan Akkitham work.
In the current exhibition too, displacement is an overriding concern — of people and animals. Akhittam depicts how the depleting forests are forcing animals to enter the cities.
“You can see how our greed is encroaching into their habitat. I call them visitors, a tiger entering Mumbai city or a black buck entering a city and getting lost. Villagers, too, are moving into the cities because they are losing their support system,” he notes. If an elephant shares a boat in Voyage, in another work titled Enclosed, a deer finds itself in a walled room. Akhittam has birds and tigers negotiating for space in urban surroundings. The modest size on the oils, he says, comments on the contemporary art scene where large-scale works are a norm. “The scale is small, but you would notice that most works are theatrical, with a proscenium on which the protagonists stand,” he adds.
Akkhitam also returns home for a bit – a large work has the symbolic tusker and hammer and sickle painted against a multi-storey building in Kerala. “When I’m in Baroda, I think of Kerala and when I’m there I think of Baroda. This is what displacement is, you don’t belong to one place,” says the artist. The exhibition is on at Triveni Kala Sangam, till October 31