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May 2007

art gallery
New Delhi

Curated by
Johny ML


Art Gallery
Grosvenor vadehra, London
The Guild Art
USA Inc.
& Lal

Essay - Making of ‘visual behaviors’ in print

Making of ‘visual behaviors’ in print - Contd...

Pictures that feminize the sight:

The shaking hands, mirrors, creepers and flowers, most of the decorative vignettes hinted hospitality and domesticity. The hot spots of ideations dialogues and cultural pedagogies were simultaneously made into soft spots of compromises diplomacies and friendships. Only their alignment spoke the difference in weight assigned to ‘hot’ and ‘soft’ spots.  Often pictures functioned in margins of the page, not on the disputable word-spaces in the center. Nobody knew who drew, who engraved or who selected these pictures to appear the way they are. Decoration was in itself a very symptomatic act. They were posited as pointers or banners to further more important events.  Not fully scrolled sheet was scribbled with information of political events dignities and generosities in word. In the discussions of the ‘feminine’ emerged in this word-world there is a shift in prominence to body/nature instead of caste identities to characterize the innate qualities. In many women’s magazines (many of them edited and published by women) of 1920s and 1930s, articles assumed a body/nature-centered and hence ‘modern’ femininity. In magazines like ‘Sharada’, ‘Vanitharatnam’, and ‘Merirani’ one finds pictures in plenty of garlands, bouquets, mirrors, children, creepers or women in sculpturesque poses and other decorations.

There is an illusive unconscious that by now has ironically tight-spaced many expressive possibilities of social living in Keralam through such en-gendering processes. Picture played an important role in working as a sign of courtesy and gentleman-practice while word-worlds took the pleasures of fancying the ‘transgressive’ in various ways.

Towards narratives: ‘there is picture to prove’

 In 1933, Mathrubhumi Illustrated Weekly came out with clear taste for ‘illustration’ through photographs pictures drawings sketches etc. Before that Deepam Illustrated Weekly tried to present lot of photographs and some ‘picture competitions’. But Mathrubhumi started off with a practice of ‘illustrating’ the serialized fiction. M.Bhaskaran, (an artist who got a tryst with Madras school of art and had to take break because of illness) provided Mathrubhumi with some pictures of human figures done in ink. He made pictures composed in fine squares. There were subtitles taken from the story to accompany each picture.

Photographs were also used as reportage of a nationalist politics. ‘Gandhi’ and other political leaders were snapped in various poses of discussions relaxations and boarding the ships or leading the ‘people’. Pictures of ‘people’ also could be featured.
More interestingly and more subtly a politics of ‘swadeshi’ was formed through advertisement narratives in 1930s. Picture shifted its significance in very loaded ways too. Advertisement does not connect directly with editorial intentions. But in Many weeklies of this time, especially in mathrubhumi because of its clear political aims in terms of supporting freedom movement in big way, one finds that advertisements interface with the political intentions. Commercial narratives mostly talked about ‘individuality’ that is ‘enlightened’ and ‘self-reliant’. In order to assume this personality, one is guided to buy ‘typical swadeshi’ products like torch, blade, soap, lotion and other pointers of modern life. Here the graphic sketch of the product is given high importance as an authenticator or verifier of quality. Product is posited as a visually tangible entity of body.

To recognize an ‘arica lamp’ (a hurricane lamp in local parlance) as an affordable beautiful and lasting utility, there is a picture in the magazine to prove it. Inversely, it is also that the visual effect of the material of the product is situated through the narrative of it and not necessarily through visual alone.

Malayala Manorama Weekly also tries to assort a ‘professional’ importance to photography by conducting competitions in 1938. since the number of entries were less they had extended the last date of submission. Interesting factor is that scenic beauty of nature, buildings, and historically important places was invited for the competition. Mathrubhumi recurrently published requests for pictures depicting Kerala’s natural beauty.

Instead of portrait photographs, ‘Sanjayan’ magazine made it admitted that one can do ‘character sketches’ through drawings. M.Bhaskaran did many for ‘Sanjayan’ and ‘Viswaroopam’ magazines. M.R.Nair the editor of these magazines and one of the major satirist writer in Malayalam, started incorporating ‘picture’ (chitram) as a category in the content list.

It was through ‘portrayable modern life and its ideals or desires that a symptomatic pictorial language of Domesticity (narratives of hygiene, food, utilities) privacy (narratives of entertainment, body and sexual pleasure that was hinged as ‘pleasure of life’) and politics (narratives of swadeshi identity, freedom and enlightened consciousness) was formed in this locale.

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