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March '07

art gallery
New Delhi

Curated by
Johny ML


  • Harindran 1
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  • Haridran 7
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Yamuna, My Love

Noted artist T.K.Hareendran speaks to JohnyML about his involvement with Rivers in general and Yamuna in particular. In this interview he narrates his ‘From the Yamuna Bed: A Journey of Love’ (2005) project, which was done in India and Uzbekistan. Excerpts:

JohnyML: Hareendran, could you please tell us something about your project ‘From the Yamuna Bed: A Journey of Love’?

T.K.Hareendran: ‘From the Yamuna Bed: A Journey of Love’ was conceived as a part of an art camp organized at Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 2005. Hans Joachim Kiderlen was the Minister of Culture in the German Embassy and he took a lot of interest in my works. When he became the German Ambassador in Tashkent, he invited three Indian artists to participate in a camp organized there. I was one of the participants.

The Yamuna project is a very dear one as far as my artistic career is concerned. When Kiderlen asked me to bring something very special from India, I could not think nothing but taking the River Yamuna as a gift. I had to device certain methods to create a gift like that. The gift became the art project itself. It was partly a piece of Process Art and partly an installation that connected the histories of two countries, people and rivers.

JohnyML: Could you please elaborate?

T.K.Hareendran: I have been working on installations since I came to Delhi almost a decade back. Though installation art was introduced to the Indian shores through the mediation of western art history, India has a strong tradition of installations. From votive sculptures, wayside shrines to the arrangement of household things we have a sense of installation. Objects with varied socio-cultural meanings are brought into a particular space where they are given a new meaning through association and dissociation. In this way installation fascinated me.

‘Face of a River’ and ‘Tree’ were two installations that I did during late 1990s in New Delhi. My intention was to create a floor based installation using the images of water creatures. I went to the State of Chattisgarh and worked with the craftsmen there who made small terracotta sculptures of fish, turtle, birds and so on. I worked with these craftspeople and brought lot of sculptures back to Delhi. I used these sculptures for making the abovementioned installations.

In ‘From the Yamuna River Bed: A Journey of Love’ also I used the terracotta images of fish, birds and turtles in a different way. When I went to collect these sculptures, one of the old women in the village put her hand on my head and blessed me as if I were her son or grandson. This gesture touched me greatly. I took those sculptures to Yamuna River. They were bundled in a yellow clothe like a wayfarer’s knickknack pack. I could connect it with the mythologies and personal lives where the giving away of gifts played an important role.

I dipped these bundles in Yamuna on the evening of a solar eclipse day. I did it in a very ritualistic way though there was no ritual involved in it. All my acts were recorded both in video and still camera by a couple of friends. Thus I started the process part of the project. Then I took these wet bundles along with me to Tashkent, where at the residence of the German Ambassador, in front of an enthusiastic crowd of diplomats, art lovers and art students, I opened the bundles. Later I bundled them again and took them to the River Syrdarya in Tashkent and in another ritualistic fashion I immersed them in it. Later I presented these documentations in a solo exhibition held in Delhi.

JML: Why Yamuna and Syrdarya?

TKH: My association with rivers started very early. I was one of the members of the now defunct Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association. With the death of K.P.Krishnakumar in 1989, who functioned as the ideologue and leader of the group, it got dissolved prematurely. There was period of disillusionment and introspection. Most of the friends stopped doing art for sometime. I, after a period of hibernation came back with a series of paintings that told the story of ordinary human beings, environment and rivers.

I lived near a river called Acchan Kovil Aaru in Kerala. Supported by some friends I started working in an abandoned truck garage and did a series of paintings. Later I exhibited them in a solo show titled ‘Acchan Kovil Aarinte Ekkal Kinakkal’. It could be roughly translated as ‘The Fertile Dreams of Acchan Kovil River’. My intention was to paint the river, its various moods and the people around it. I did not have much resource to make art historical references. So I referred to what was available around me; river, fishermen, workers, tree, local pathways etc. I found the river as a resource of history that connected different times and ages. Later I did another exhibition called ‘Chemman Patha’ (Path of Red Sand). It was a time when no artist talked about rivers and village paths. Everyone was addressing the Western Modernism in different ways.

I came to Delhi in 1999. Since then I have been looking at Yamuna with a different eye. I am not an environmental activist. I look the river in a socio-historical sense. I look at the river as the cradle of cultures. I could see history flowing through it. My paintings reflect these sentiments in different ways. I took Yamuna to Tashket. I could find a similar river, Syrdarya there. I concluded my journey at the banks of this river. I immersed the gifts in the waters of Syrdarya river under the watchful eyes of the Tashkent security guards. Mine was gesture that connected two rivers, two histories and two people.
JML: How did you present your journey in a comprehensive show?

TKH: I did a solo show titled ‘From the Yamuna River Bed: A Journey of Love’ in New Delhi, where I presented an edited video projection of my journey from Yamuna to Syrdarya. The show also had photographic documents as if they were like movie stills, and paintings.

JML: Are you still working with ‘Rivers’?

TKH: Yes. Rivers are the source of my art. Rivers witness the social changes. They witness the movement of the people. They protect civilizations. They cradle the lives of ordinary people. My latest video documentary project also captures Yamuna in an entirely different occasion; the Chhath Puja days. It is the festival of the people. They worship river. And in my work I look at the river through the eyes of the people.

Read an article by Rashika Ojha on Chhath Puja festival in our Feature Section »


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