The Traditionalist


K P Reji thinks India’s first Biennale will be a huge success.

For Kerala-born artist K.P. Reji, it’s all about connections. Working on his painting for theinaugural Kochi-Muziris Biennale, opening on December 12th, Reji is drawing upon oral histories from the region to convey to the viewer a sense of ‘his Kerala’.

Working out of the beautiful historical building ‘Pepper House’ in Fort Kochi, Reji has incorporated local, everyday elements into his work so that people viewing his work – Keralites and internationals alike – can draw connections both with the painting and with the setting of Kochi.

Hailing from a small village in Kerala, Reji has endeavored to incorporate local oral
histories into his work. The myth of “Thumbinkal Chathan” formed the basic foundation
for his painting which depicts a man lying down to form a dam, sacrificing his life and
saving the farmland. Arriving in Kochi two months ago, and working in the lofty upstairs
space of Pepper House, his work has progressed as he has drawn upon local elements andsights.

“The elements are from here. The colour pallet is very traditional, if you look outside the window you can see green and grey and so they are used purposefully. If you look out you can see the water, ships, and cormorants fishing … New images are coming and this is very positive for me as an artist.”

Excited by the prospect of India’s first Biennale, the artist has chosen to focus on his connection withthe land. For this reason he has not drawn upon Kerala’s history as the thriving port-town of Muziriswith strong connections to Rome and West Asia, but more on the local oral histories that have informed Kerala traditions.

Having participated in the Jogja Biennale, held in Jakarta, Reji is optimistic about the opportunities the Kochi-Muziris Biennale holds for Kerala, citing that most art events are held in larger centers further north – such as Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta. He sees a chance here to return art and cultural awareness to the South, adding “Kochi holds many possibilities given its local historical monuments. A biennale should be about more than the artwork, the space should give something more. This environment will add more to the event, and I think Kochi can support that”.

Reji believes that this Biennale holds exciting prospects for Kerala and for art awareness
in the region. He hopes that this event, even though held only once every two years, will provide the inspiration for local art in the region and will have a long-lasting positive
impact. In the artists words, “I am a Keralite and I think of this as my Biennale”. These
words certainly ring true in the artist’s portrayal of Kochi and Kerala through the
incorporation of local elements and oral histories, which will be sure to resonate with
visitors from near and afar to India’s first Biennale.

- Lydia Randall

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