Surendran Nair’s triptych, Origins: A Tableau–Epiphany (Cuckoonebulopolis) (2012-13) is part of a personal project that the artist has been working on since the early 2000s. Titled Cuckoonebulopolis after the ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, The Birds, it is made up of a series of drawings that are plays around the notion of Utopia.
Rather than alternatives to the present offered by Utopic imaginings, what interests Nair about the concept of Utopia is its inherent critique of the existent order. Throughout Cuckoonebulopolis, he has used this basic premise of Utopia as a backdrop or as a theatrical device to sharpen the form and address of his images.
As he explains: “These set of works (Cuckoonebulopolis) were meant only as a more or less light-hearted exploration, something humorous, something that enables a play on the ironic possibilities of its corollary: The nebulous city of cuckoos. But once I got into the vortex of things, it occurred to me that some of the themes and images that I'd been grappling with were in fact becoming quite complicated and demanded an approach that was altogether different.”
The artist has classified Cuckoonebulopolis into various chapters, each dealing with a different set of imagery. Origins: A Tableau comes under the section Epiphany and is loosely based on the myth of the 'churning of the milky ocean,’ a tale that deals with origins of different kinds. Interwoven here are images culled by Nair from his personal memories as well as the history of colonialism in India.
According to Nair, “Generally speaking, this particular series could be considered as an attempt from my part at exploring the possibilities of imagining something secular. Some of these works are, in that sense, (personal) responses to some of the problems that we are entrenched in.”