Sculpting in Time

Arts & Culture

Balan Nambiar’s six decades of artistic genius is on full display at the NGMA, writes Saiqua Sultan

The exhibition themed “Sculpting in Time, Balan Nambiar and his six decades of engagement with Materiality” was inaugurated on February 4, 2018. Curated by his long-time friend Sadanand Menon, this retrospective exhibition encompasses Nambiar’s enormous repertoire.

Nambiar’s drawings in conté, Indian ink, charcoal and pastels, and sixty jewellery enamel paintings on silver and copper as well as paintings in water colour and oils are on exhibit. Along with those one can get to see the artist’s famous sculptures in bronze, mild steel and stainless steel.

A timeline of creative works carefully catalogued by his wife is what you see on the wall the moment you enter the exhibit. The artist has worked with a wide variety of mediums like clay, wood, bronze, mild steel, fiber glass reinforced concrete and stainless steel to create monumental sculptures which involve computer-generated designs and laser-cutting technology.

“I use computer technology to create my designs because—first I am a contemporary artist. I want to incorporate that in my artwork,” says Nambiar of his steel sculpture. “Secondly, once you start working with steel or iron then you find that using modern technology can give shape to the thought you have in mind.”

Capturing the various expressions of movements and forms, Nambiar moulds iconic sculptures that show his commitment to his work. “What you see behind you,” pointing to a huge mild steel conch shell sculpture called ‘Valampiri Shankha’, “was a work in progress for almost two decades, you have to keep working, giving as much shape to your imagination as you can,” he says.

Valampiri Shanka was a work in progress for almost two decades.                      Saiqua Sultan

With national and international art exhibitions, National and State Lalit Kala Academy awards under his belt, this painter, sculptor, enamellist and photographer finds inspiration from his childhood memories. Nambiar is a passionate aficionado of ritual performances and motifs from the southern coast of India and has done intensive research on them.

The exhibit has a separate photography section which displays huge photographs documenting Teyyam and Bhuta and other ritual art forms. These photographs are overwhelming to the say least as Nambiar captured them in the best light settings to do justice to the riot of colours that run through these rituals.

“The photographs were overwhelming, and very intense. The bright colors make them appear larger than life. It is also nice to actually see the artist mingling and talking with us visitors,” said Kimberley Pinto, a third year St. Joseph College of Commerce student visiting the exhibition.

Born in 1937 in Kannapuram in Kerala to a farming family, Nambiar grew up working on the fields. It was during this time that he imbibed a strong love for nature and uses its various elements in his art works.

He worked as a draughtsman in the Indian Railways and then shifted to Madras. He quit his job and to study sculpture. “There was a time when I had almost next to nothing. Quitting my job at the age of 30, leaving a steady income to study art, it was a difficult. But I did what I truly wanted to do. Pursue my love for painting and sculpting,” recalls Nambiar.

He has been meticulously working and cataloguing his collection for more than 60 years and has experimented with almost all mediums.

“I was struck by the sheer vastness of his work! It is overwhelming to take it all in at one go. I feel I have to come back again to truly absorb this experience,” says Sugatha K S, an admirer of Nambiar’s work.

“I am going to come out with a book on enamel paintings. It’s too soon to give away all the details but this is something I have wanted to do since a long time,” says Nambiar, looking out onto the serene setting for his sculptures in the NGMA.

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