Exploring "Dots" with Anujan Ezhikode
IAHP blogger Priya Chhaya spoke with artist Anujan Ezhikode, whose work “Dots” is featured in Beyond Bollywood.
Tell us about yourself. What’s your story?
I was born in Kerala, South India. Growing up, I don’t remember a day that I wasn’t trying to draw or do some kind of art. My early surroundings were rich with classical dance, theater, music, and the daily folk and religious rituals. Those impressions of color, sound, and movement still resonate in me and inform my work.
With this interest in art, I was encouraged to attend the Kerala Kalamandalam (State Academy of Arts) where I studied makeup and costumes for several ancient theater arts. Through the school, I had the opportunity to travel with the school’s performing arts troupes throughout India, Europe and to the U.S. During the international tours, I was able to visit the leading art museums which further advanced my interest in painting. Later, coming to New York City gave me the opportunity to study and pursue my childhood dream.
“Dots” is part of the Beyond Bollywood exhibition. What inspired the painting?
“Dots” is made from catalog advertisements cut into one inch strips. I wove the randomly selected strips into a new page, creating a grid pattern, which resulted in an undoing or recreating of the original ads.
I painted over the ad fragments with a new image that reflected my experience, without obscuring the remnants of the original messages.
“Dots” was a response to identity, which is an ongoing theme for me. In my work, I am always considering what are the outward and inward things that define me as an Indian/ Indian American. Why do some people feel threatened when they see people wearing colored dots on their foreheads? I don’t wear one but I know that I am part of that group. I know that when some people see me they impose an imaginary dot. All immigrants share certain fear or doubt about their acceptance in the wider community no matter how integrated you become into the fabric of daily life.
The grid pattern in “Dots” mirrors that feeling of alienation and being boxed in that resurfaces every time there is a prejudice or a hate crime to any group. The face could be me or you. The image in the picture is looking out through the pattern and the viewer is looking back, both looking through the dots.
How did your early training in theater and your exposure to theatrical makeup influence you as an artist?
My first influence was seeing the actual colors which came in rock form. They were ground and mixed with coconut oil to make makeup, with the richness and consistency of modern oil paint.
Another important influence was exposure to all the components of the theater. Over time, I was able to abstract and deconstruct that experience; it lead me to look closely at all the separate elements and visual decisions needed to create this perfect whole. I use that same reasoning now when I consider how to structure my work.
If you had to create a self-portrait, what medium would you use and what would you want to convey?
I use Indian handloom fabrics (dhotis and saris) in my work and even banana leaves. My self-portrait would be created with a handloom fabric – preferably one worn by me or someone from my family. I can visualize invisible marks, finger prints and impressions left behind on the cloth and along with the stories they tell and would want to add my own layer of memory. My work addresses identity, time and memory. Connections overtime can fade but there is still that longing to reconnect. For me handloom or banana leaves add familiarity, memory, and solace to reveal this collective yearning.
What are your impressions of the Beyond Bollywood exhibition?
As Indian immigrants and Indian Americans, we have a story to tell to ourselves and the wider world. The exhibition is beautifully thought out and artistically presented. I was thrilled to see artworks interspersed to help illustrate the themes of the show, including in the Dotbusters section, where my work was presented alongside painful artifacts of prejudice, discrimination and violence.