Taking Kerala to Switzerland, is the talented artist Unnikrishnan C
If Kerala-based artist, Unnikrishnan C were to sift through experiences to come up with a single high point, maybe that would be his work coming into the purview of American investment banker, Richard Blum. When the United States Senator from California picked up his work from a group show at Gallery SKE two years ago, little did the artist realise that the act would open the floodgates of opportunities for him in the global arena of art. Blum learned more about this young Pezhumpara artist who did not let existential drudges trample his artistic flair and decided to support him for two years. All this benevolence and creative intelligence culminates in a solo show for Unnikrishnan next month in Blum’s native Zug, Switzerland. A proud moment this is for the artist, his patron and for us.
Born in the small, mountainous town of Nemmara in Palakkad district of Kerala, Unnikrishnan, who still lives there, spent a lot of time in the fields and forests around his village. It was there that he began noticing the transformation of the mountains, the excavated valley due to the illegal destruction for the stone quarrying. “The landscape around me forms the basis for my inspiration to make art. My art teacher in school encouraged me to consider art as a career option. I joined the Thrissur School of Art after passing eighth standard. My time there opened up possibilities of exploring ideas and translating them into artworks,” recalls Unnikrishnan, whose interest in art began at a young age, from seeing rituals and practices that his family observed to the heavily decorated temples, deities and ritual dancers he witnessed at festivals. It will indeed be exciting to see how an audience that is so disconnected and distant from Kerala will react to and engage with works that are steeped and rooted in people and stories from the hamlet of Nemmara.
Understandably, his show at Zug will be a telling insight of the world the artist was bred in. “Many of the works in the exhibition are portraits of everyday people, and each of those ‘characters’ have their own story to tell, which comes together to form a complex narrative that one will see in this body of work. But for me as a young artist, beyond telling stories, practice is what is paramount and how that practices shapes ideas into artworks. And I much rather viewers find their own meaning and stories in my work,” he explains, adding, “This opportunity has given me the chance to experiment with varied mediums, which I had not so far. I will be showcasing 10 works including paintings, installations and video works. Portrait of Mother and Sister, which was painted directly onto my bedroom door, is one of first works. Mother Weaving Studies is most special to me however, as it represents my journey and the experience of all the works coming together.”
This will be Unnikrishnan’s first big leap after he was ‘discovered’ in 2014 at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale when the talented artist floored names such as Jitish Kallat, Bose Krishnamachari and Valsan Koorma Kollleri with the creative candour of his walls that were more liberating than restricting. While there, EungieJoo, the curator of Sharjah Biennale 12, approached Unnikrishnan to show at the international forum. It was even sweeter when afterwards the Sharjah Biennale Foundation acquired his work.
Even his parents, who were initially apprehensive of Unnikrishnan’s choice of career, have turned supportive after the determined promise the youngster has shown to chart a sure spot for himself in the art world. “Coming from a poor family, my mother kept wondering how far this all will take me. They can see that what I’m doing is important, and part of a larger community.”