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Cholamandal Artists Village

The search for an art that is typically and distinctively Indian has seen many experiments and concerted efforts on the part of artists in India. One such initiative is the Cholamandal Artists' Village established, in 1964, in Mahabalipuram in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The village was planned in order to give Indian artists the space and stimulation that would lead to the creation of an idiom combining both the indigenous element thought to reside in local folklore and craft traditions as well as the international modernism that there is no going back from ever.

The distinctive feature of the village was the economic basis on which it rested: the artists would produce handicraft items like enamel jewellery, batiks, metal work, repousse work etc., and sell them. This would make them self-sufficient and leave them free to create the work they aspired to.

The spearheads of the idea were K.C.S Panikker and his students in the art college in nearby Madras. These artists, painters as well as sculptors, included Redeppa Naidu, Anthony Doss, A. Santhanaraj, P.V. Janakiram, S. Dhanapal, L. Munuswamy, K. Haridasan, K.M. Adimoolam, A. Alphonso, Viswanandhan, K. Ramanujam, R. Bhaskaran, Arnawaz Vasudev, S.G. Vasudev and others. J. Sultan Ali would join the group later.

According to the critic Marta Jakimowicz'Karle, the Cholamandal artists tried to fashion an indigenous idiom utilising the chief element characterising 'local artisanal practice ' (the) linear patterns indicative of a pan-natural throb of life applied to symbolic, iconic and ornamental forms.' In the work of Panikker, this element is 'a delicate-squiggly and straight flow of script and a sign of things rhythmically arranged' Under M. Redeppa Naidu, it acquires a yet more decorative character in his elegant and obvious divine images, within the external differences, quite similar to Sultan Ali's strangely playful creatures.'

The aims of the Cholamandal artists seem to be best exemplified in the paintings of K. Ramanujam where 'reality, myths and fantasy merge in an intense, vibrant and unique manner.'

Similar contributions, though in their diverse individual styles would come from the other artists. Over time though, in the hands of the less disciplined, some 'Cholamandala works turned literally craftish, prettified and sporadically sentimental in their pseudo-innocence.'

The Village continues to meet the need it was set up to fulfill even today. Young artists fresh out of art school spend time here in the company of older veterans, learning and imbibing the spirit that may yet yield the typically Indian way of doing art.

(See Profiles of individual artists for more information)

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