Shells and feathers as medium for Kerala artist


Sreeja Vijaykumar uses sea shells and feathers to express in her ongoing exhibition Kakkothy

Kakkothy, the iconic character from the 1988 film Kakkothikkavile Appooppan Thaadikal, was a free spirit who wore large beads around her neck and feathers in her hair. Inspired by the gypsy girl, self-taught artist Sreeja Vijaykumar’s latest exhibition — also called Kakkothy — uses seashells and feathers as a medium of expression. “Everyone is attracted to the seashell,” says Sreeja, who explains that the offbeat has always been her way of expressing herself. “For many, it is just part of Zoology. Others collect it and place it in their showcase but not on their walls. For me it is a canvas.”

Sreeja, who hails from Nilambur and lives in Thrissur, began travelling three years ago to collect shells from beaches “ from Kanyakumari to Kutch”, and sandy towns “ from Rameshwaram to Hyderabad”. As her design-based need increased, she began sourcing them from wholesalers as well. Her son Maheswar, a Class X student, happily assists her. “We carry sackfuls of shells; around 15 to 20 kg at a time. We take off on long weekends to just do this,” she laughs.

The highlight of ‘Kakkothy’ is a model of the Cheraman Juma Masjid in Kodangallur, the oldest mosque in India, with features of regional architecture. The model required nearly 10 kilos of shells and took two months to be aesthetically collated. Two other models are of the Padmanabhaswamy temple and the Vadakkunnathan temple in Thrissur. The distinctive feature of the models is the craftsmanship involved: the shells are first sifted, segregated on the basis of size, shape and colour and then placed artistically in the sculpture frame.

Shells and feathers as medium for Kerala artist

“The profile of the shell is very important,” says Sreeja who creates a textured surface on mother-of-pearl shells by treating them before using them on her models. “An acid wash is required as a first line of treatment, done by the sellers,” she explains.

Earlier Sreeeja had used stones as medium with each stone face depicting a traditional Indian painting style like Madhubani, Warli, Kangra, Mughal art and others. She painstakingly collected five types of stones from river beds across different parts of India.

Shells and feathers as medium for Kerala artist

“There are black Cudappa stones, stones from Hirakund in Odisha while the white stones are from the Chaliyar river in Kerala,” she says. Her first exhibition in 2014 was on canvas where she painted the traditional native flowers of Kerala, followed by works done with feathers, a show that made it to the Limca Book of Records for Feather Art.

In her current show, she uses feathers to create images of birds and scenery. She takes care not to use the feathers of protected birds and seeks help from the Forest Department to source her material. “I love travel and it helps me in my art,” she says, tracing her unconventional ideas and art style back to her journeys.

The show is on at Ente Bhoomi at Valanjambalam till March, 13, 2021.

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