Kochi, Feb 13: PS Jalaja, one of the most promising artists on the Indian contemporary art scene, firmly believes that faces tell a story. Every face tells a different story. Put together they tell one story.
In her first solo show at Kashi Art Gallery of Fort Kochi, ‘FACE IT: HERstory’, she dips into the archives that her mind is of imprints of faces that she has collected since her academic days in Tripunithura to her recently completed art residency in Tuscany to tell the story of the human condition.
She has been collecting them all. Faces that she has come across in real life; those that she has chanced upon in magazines and those unearthed to suit the subject matter of an individual work.
The myriad images are put together as a composite unit to narrate a particular story. Even the time spent at ‘Art Residencies in Contemporary Renaissance’ at its second edition in Tuscany off Florence during November-December 2013 was another chapter added to her tome of faces. Therefore, ‘FACE IT: HERstory’. Faces, happy or sad, excited or angry, astonished or anguished faces, titles of some of her works, form the crux of her art practice.
“Human faces have been my obsession of sorts for the past six or seven years,” says Jalaja, now 30, talking about the ongoing show which has her oldest work done in 2011. “It’s not just the looks, but also the movements.”
The artist has been closely watching people from 2006-07 during her graduation days at the RLV Fine Arts College in Tripunithura near here. “I enjoyed doing it at common places but at odd times. Like, at railway stations late into night,” notes Jalaja, whose works subsequently fetched her place among 35 Emerging Asian Artists in the list of the Gwangju Biennale foundation (South Korea). Then, like in a jigsaw puzzle, Jalaja began tastefully slotting the faces she painted on vast canvases. No, they have never been a collage or montage, yet the final work form myriad images of faces would conjure up a macro image of a totally different nature vis-à-vis each figure that she individually painted.
“It is a fascinating experience to note how a crowd of faces would pop up an impression that would be distinct from a close-up view of each one of them. It’s another matter that I don’t give preferential treatment to some,” notes the artist whose work titled Tug of War at India’s first Kochi-Muziris Biennale featured a horizontal array of 50 adult humans from a range of races across the globe.
Jalaja, who completed her Masters in Fine Arts in 2009, invariably makes it a point to prop her artwork with basic research about the history of the countries from where she chooses her set of human faces. What’s more, “I note that a chunk of them have common subjects to speak in contemporary times — mostly sad ones: of inflation, joblessness, atrocities, communal intolerance,” she adds.
Such continual studies are what propel Jalaja’s pursuit these days. The state as a monster is rather a consistent in her paintings — all of which are in watercolour.
Why is it that the artist has zeroed in on ‘water colour on paper’ as her medium?
“Nothing permanent about anything in my career,” she shrugs. “I just employ that medium which I feel would best suit the theme I seek to project.”
What bothers her, though, is “missing tool” in the academic course. By that Jalaja means the nude model. “True, human anatomy is so integral to my work now, but then back in the arts college, we in Kerala don’t get to actually see the naked body,” she says. “Then to paint human figures is like asking the medical student to perform surgery on a non-existing slice of flesh.”
A native of Keezhillam in the eastern belt of Ernakulam district, Jalaja says this lack of a critical facility has sometimes prompted her to use her own body as a specimen to depict human beings.
“That level of prudishness in Kerala society must end,” adds the artiste, a 2013 INK fellow (in association With TED) who has won the 2009 State Award of the Kerala Lalitha Kala Akademi, the 2008 Honorable Mention Award of the same organization and 2005 Artist Balan Foundation Scholarship among others.
Renowned artist Bose Krishnamachari, who has been a curatorial advisor at the Jalaja show, says the artiste show immense social and political concern. “Her works are sensitive responses marked on time from local schools of thoughts,” he adds.
Edgar Pinto of Kashi Art Gallery says Jalaja continuously explores regional and global issues of economical, political, racial and religious dimensions. “She brings them on her creative spaces without solutions but relevant responsibility,” he notes.
‘FACE IT: HERstory’ is on at Kashi Art Gallery, Fort Kochi till March 30.