Mohanakrishnan Haridasan

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over one year and six months

This grant supported visual artist Mohanakrishnan Haridasan (Mochu) to make a short film and website on the life and works of K. Ramanujam, who created a majority of his pen and ink drawings at the Cholamandal artist’s village in Chennai. Like Ramanujam, who drew fantasy landscapes and mythical cities, Mochu who trained in film and video from the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, too makes black pen drawings and collages inspired from various sources.

In the 60s, a small group of inspired young students from the Government College of Arts and Crafts, Madras, migrated to a plot of land by the sea. They were guided and mentored by K C S Paniker who was the principal of the college. They imagined an idyllic utopia away from the harsh realities of post-colonial India and formed the Cholamandal artists’ village which soon went on to become the largest artists’ commune in India, and whose artists comprise the Madras Art Movement. “Having lived and worked in Cholamandal with the active encouragement from K C S Paniker and many other contemporaries of his time, Ramanujam’s art is unique and unusual within the context of the Madras Art Movement as well as the wider spectrum of modern art in India,” says Mochu. In Ramanujam’s work, unlike his peer group, the modernist syntax was nowhere to be seen. Image making was a personal healing process as well as a vehicle to temporarily ascend to an alternative utopia. Ramanujam’s images were populated by fairies, demi-gods, giant snakes, futuristic self-portraits wearing a black hat and coat. It is evident from his work that a deeply personal formal language was evolving with a playful irresponsibility characteristic of popular art gathered and hybridised from local cinema, magazine art and mythological theatre.

At the core of Mochu’s exploration is the critical quest for a methodology to research and document a work of art. Mochu’s methodology is one where a practitioner reflects and responds to another artist’s work. This is a new and emerging area of support under IFA’s Arts Research and Documentation programme, where art practice itself becomes a powerful form of inquiry. Mochu’s response to Ramanujam’s life and work had two outcomes - an interactive website that will create a portrait of Ramanujam’s life based on factual information, designed in a way that can be converted into a physical exhibition in the future, and an artistic response to the mythical universe contained in Ramanujam’s art work in the form of a short film.