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Collective Nouns Manjunath Kamath

Dimension : 10.5m x 2m

Collective Nouns

Animation, Canvas, Oil paint

Manjunath Kamath would be happy if you were too tired to pull out your camera to take a picture of his work.

"Nowadays, people are obsessed with a different kind of imagery. When they go to a museum or a historical site, I often notice that rather than interacting with the work of art, they are busy taking pictures of it with their mobiles and cameras they miss out on enjoying the actual artwork in the here and now of the moment," observes the artist.

This becomes important in the context of his influences - Kamath sits surrounded by various keepsakes that include traditional portable wooden temples, sculptures of Lord Jagannath, voluptuous yakshi figures and popular kitschy objects like toy action figures and tinsel covered dolls. "My grandmother would narrate mythological stories to us and I would spend hours imagining the visuals in my head. The stories were not realistic but fantastical and in many ways these form the bedrock of the imagery in my work."

Inspired by the fables of the Panchatantra and Jataka Tales, Kamath's work is simultaneously humorous and serious. With his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, he quotes images from across history and everyday life (Russian storybooks, patachitra paintings, studies in art, sculpture, design and illustration), placing them in fantastical and, in some instances, absurd conditions. These painted images, as well as the accompanying animated video works, each frame hand illustrated by the artist, are mounted on oval frames, emulating traditional ganjifas (playing cards) of various sizes. The animation is so slow in certain frames that one could blink and miss it.

"In a public art project such as this, it is critical that the audience relate to the imagery and so I have deliberately chosen familiar everyday images," he says.

So, a series of paintings depict a monkey holding its own tail, the mythological image of the boar Varaha bearing the globe, a man trying on sanyogichappals (wooden clogs) while stepping on a balloon, and a faceless British Royal. Everyday did he say?

Like his paintings, the video works are also humorous. For instance, a pigeon and an egg are shown perched on fan blades, facing each other. The delicate balance of the bird and the egg gets shifted every time the bird moves and the 'helpless' egg wobbles the balancing act that is life, a reminder, that every action taken by an individual has an opposite and equal reaction.

There is no specific narrative though. Through repetition of motifs, linkages are carefully orchestrated following a thread from one frame to another.

Manjunath Kamath

Manjunath Kamath grew up in Mangalore in a large joint family among grandmothers and aunts who narrated folktales, religious stories and introduced him to Indian classical music. His early training was with traditional idol makers who prepare life-size statues for festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi and Durga Pooja.

His later studies at the Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Arts and at the School of Design and Art at Cardiff University exposed him to contemporary art and city life. Infused with a certain urbane-charm that looked humorously at the mundane and the political, Kamath's work straddles a variety of media and size.

While Kamath's signature style is painting with watercolour, he has switched to acrylic and oil on canvas for this body of work. "The project demanded that I change mediums as the works have to possess a longevity that will withstand the test of time and the Mumbai climate, which is very humid", says Kamath. The images are also coated with a fire-resistant layer of paint.

The inclusion of animation in Kamath's work is recent, with his first foray into this medium being showcased at the India Art Fair 2012. "There is a tendency to refer only to 'new media works' as experimental. In my opinion, one can be experimental without moving away from being Indian, traditional or even for that matter, decorative. That is why I chose to work with animation and hand drawn, hand painted images that come from my repository of works. I never animate an image digitally as the end result looks plastic."

Instead, each image is drawn and painted a number of times, each 'frame' slightly different, and then the 'frames' are exported into the software to create an animation sequence. Each video has an archive of about 400-500 hand illustrations. It is a painstaking and time-consuming process.

Firmly rooted in folk and classical visual traditions as well as India's rich repertoire of fables, myths and popular culture, Kamath's work, makes the lines between art and craft appear superficial.

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