Wounded Souls | A Contemporary Myth of Being

‘‘Wounded souls:  A contemporary myth of being exhibition is trying  to explore

the theme of community and marginalization by way of the Theyyam

“Kaliyattam”/festival in Kannur, and by extension the Malabar region of Kerala. The

four-day exhibition at the Rengoli Metro Art Center- Belaku gallery   here on Saturday

presents the visual  features of the Theyyam performance through a blend of paintings and

drawings.  Focussed on the Theyyam festival of Dhanaraj’s village,Keezhara ,  work aims to

challenge people about their assumptions of Theyyam, and to provide a visual  experience

that is familiar in ritual and tradition, but which focusses the audiences attention on the artist

gaze of the marginalized communities that create and perform the Kaliyattam.   

In this exhibition the artists use their critical eye to  explore the rich culture and history of

Theyyam through the lens of marginalized communities and their life. Dhanaraj uses his

critical photographic eye paired with his incredible talent as a visual artist to capture the

Theyyam performers in the midst of their regular preparatory activities from applying face

painting, and helping performers with their costumes, to preparing materials on the temple

grounds. The subtle nature of his paintings, interspersed with accents of color to highlight

costumes and mask designs is a cornerstone of Dhanaraj’s stylistic approach to the subject

matter his work explores. His work relies on the use of engaging techniques which fuse

digital media and traditional drawing and painting approaches. The resulting artistic creations

are fresh, yet traditional, appealing to the eye and yet different enough to draw the audiences

attention inward to his creations, as  search for meaning and information within his visual

pieces. Dhanaraj’s reference for these works of art dates back to his childhood and adolescent

years growing up alongside these Theyyam performers and elders, and is rooted in his adult

gaze of these same members of his community. 

About Dhanaraj's  Paintings:

A myriad of ecosystems held in a delicate balance, sustaining the cultural imaginings of

communities from time immemorial, threatened with destruction; urban dissonance and

violence and an increasing human estrangement from nature- these are some concerns that

have given impetus to Dhanaraj Keezhara’s work through the years. His vivid canvases

continue to be melancholy yet arresting reminders of progressive human encroachments on

the natural and a deep sense of loss of more consonant ways of living. Painting is at once a

reaction and a response to urban life around him, organizing and reflecting on the incredible

chaos one is constantly bombarded with as well as a concretization of hope and possibility.

Different media excite him, allowing for different engagements and new modes of expression. In his painting, sketching and sculpture one can discern a constant striving towards

clarity of vision and an unfailing hope for a harmonious world. Dhanaraj’ s work has been a

continuous engagement with art-practice as emerging from the negotiations of people with

their society and environment.  Fired by a belief in art's ability to heal and renew a world torn

asunder by violence and strife, he has continuously involved himself in community initiatives

and education. From his student days at the College of Fine Arts, Kannur, through his ten

year stint at various NGO’s and his present work at CHRISTEL HOUSE INDIA, art has

always been a means of connecting with people and sharing his emotions and experiences

His paintings dialogue with contemporary urban environmental discourses, harking back to

non-urban modes of living as possible ways of reimagining human relationships with nature.

The series Everyday life gives ex-pression to experiences that emerged from the local Kannur

community’s dialogues with the art form of Theyyam. One of the ritual art forms of North

Kerala, in its nature worship, its obeisance to earth, air and water, ritual worship and

shamanic performances, Theyyam is a festive reaffirmation of the organic relationship of

humans to a natural world.  Trees, animals and insects co-inhabit these canvases with tools

and implements, contextualizing human activity within the productivity of nature. Fragments

of fractured and disparate realities that the artist seeks to pull together, these vibrant

explorations gesture towards a link between the everyday and the spectacular where the

Theyyam experience manifests itself for the artist in the local mannerisms and postures of the

people of the community.

Strongly figurative in their mode, these paintings draw on an almost elemental fluidity of

shape and line to re-imagine and transfigure the natural world. Nature continues to be

indicative of the human psychoscape and inner turmoil and outer disturbances draw on each

other. In these canvases, melancholic human figures populate vividly colored and richly

textured symbolic landscapes imparting to these works a ruminative and contemplative

quality. Recent additions, while they continue the association of figure and motif that is such

a strong feature of this series, give one the sense of being infused with light, imparting to

these canvases a sense of lightness and hopefulness.

Much of Dhanaraj’s recent work continues to address contemporary concerns of the

environment and the ecosystem, revisiting earlier explorations of the human relationship with

nature and often launching into a critique of commercialism and dissonant living. Some

paintings attempt a visualization of an idea of violence and disharmony. His series on

contemporary contentions around water that seem to threaten into extinction older more

harmonious relationships between the human and the natural world often take up this mode of

depiction where they continually gesture towards the need for restoring society's connections with the natural world.  The urban is constantly drawn on, albeit for the purposes of a

critique. It is conceived as a site of dissonance and waste, and urban landscapes, symbolizing

disharmony and clutter continue to act the foil for an imaginative exploration of possible

harmony. And yet, interestingly urban dystopia becomes at once a site for artistic production

as well the source of new metaphors for such a critical imagining.

Dhanaraj’s artistic style and expressions are changing also he is doing lots of experiments

with the old and new conventions of art practices which accommodates new domains digital

imagining as well. Dhanaraj can understand these factors. Hence, couple of years from now

he can present a more powerful artworks which will intermediate different techniques and

technology of art and imaginations. This, he is sure that will extend the possibilities of having

a platform where one can talk about the society/communicate with the new generation in a

quite different manner. Dhanaraj started this project while learning new image making


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