It has been 10 years since Bengaluru-based artist Balan Nambiar had a solo show in that city. But the ongoing exhibition, Sculpting In Time, a retrospective of Nambiar’s work that spans over 60 years, curated by arts critic and editor Sadanand Menon, is exciting for more than one reason. Apart from his trademark stainless-steel sculptures, enamel and oil paintings, sketches and watercolours, it is the first time that Nambiar is exhibiting some of his photographic works, chronicling his research on 27 different ritual arts of Kerala and Tulu Nadu.
“Not many people know that I am a serious photographer. Some of these photographs (on exhibit) were shown at an exhibition in Delhi called The Mirror Image some time ago, but the majority of them haven’t been (publicly) exhibited before,” says Nambiar, 80, who was born to a farmer’s family in Kannapuram, Kerala.
There is a striking image of a dishevelled woman lunging towards the camera with her hands outstretched, looking as though she were possessed. It was taken during a ritual in Kerala where many women gather and go into a trance-like state. Nambiar says, “The woman was angry that I was photographing them and she was reaching out to grab my camera when she suddenly collapsed.”
For four-five decades, this has been one of Nambiar’s pet projects—recording rituals related to spiritualism. “Some of these photographs capture the rarest of rare rituals, such as ones related to pregnancy where they ward off evil spirits. These rituals are fast losing their place in today’s age of medical advancement,” the artist explains.
Apart from 55 photographs, the artist is also showcasing about 60 stainless-steel sculptures. Nambiar, who started out as a painter, discovered his love for sculpting after enrolling for a fine arts course at the Government College of Arts and Crafts, Chennai, in 1971. While he started out with mild-steel sculptures, he graduated to stainless steel after he realized that many of his artworks, installed in public spaces, were getting corroded.
Among the paintings on display are about 60 jewellery enamel works on copper and silver—the largest collection in this category that he has ever put up in a show. Nambiar picked up this particular medium from his father-in-law, the late Italian artist Paolo De Poli, and all his enamel artworks were made in Italy, where he had access to a furnace. “These are the costliest to produce but they will never age—the colours will always look the same. But they are brittle like glass,” says the artist.
Sculpting In Time is on till 3 March, 10am-5pm (closed on Mondays and national holidays), at National Gallery of Modern Art, Manikyavelu Mansion, Palace Road.