Affectionately referred to as ‘Artist Namboodiri’, K M Vasudevan Namboodiri is a legendary illustrator, artist and sculptor whose influence on Kerala’s popular visual culture is unmatched. It is Namboodiri’s illustrations that form a visual parallel in the ‘Malayali’ imagination to the worlds depicted in major works by writers such as M T Vasudevan Nair or V K N that have shaped the state’s literary landscape. Namboodiri is best known for his dreamy, sinuous female figures, popularly known as ‘Namboodiri’s women’. The artist has also made forays into cinema: In 1974, he received the Kerala State Film Award for ‘Best Art Director’ for the film Uttarayanam (Directed by G Aravindan).
In Vara/Thira (2014), created for the Biennale, Namboodiri offers fleeting glimpses of Kochi through a series of drawings that unfold like a mindscape of the city where the past and present collide. Monuments that are relics of the colonial era, along with street scenes, waterways and markets, appear in these drawings. Also presented are a suite of portraits that signal their subjects’ identity through clothing and hairstyles but retain a degree of ambiguity, allowing viewers to project their imaginations onto them. On viewing these drawings, one perceives the artist’s forceful, calligraphy-like marks consolidating into form before unraveling yet again into an abstract play of lines. Elsewhere, by letting a few drops of water flow over the drawings, Namboodiri returns the dry ink into liquid form, creating small bursts of blue that emerge out of the dark concentration of lines.