Jayakrishnan Subramanian

Arts Research

Grant Period: One year and six months

 This grant will enable his research to develop a modern, metaphoric interpretation of classical Tamil Poetry and its artistic depiction of the desert landscape of ‘Palai’ in Sangam literature. In the cinematic form, the project will foreground the context of migrant workers from Tamil Nadu to the United Arab Emirates and Middle East.

 The early classical Tamil literature, also known as Sangam literature, consists of eight anthologies or Ettuthokai, ten long poems or Pathuppattu, and a work on grammar called Tolkappiyam or the old composition. These poems deploy nature and the surrounding landscape as a framework to express human love, longing and loss. It assigns five human experiences of love to specific landscapes of Kurinji - the hills, Mullai - the forest, Marutham - the lowland, Neithal - the seashore, and Palai - the wasteland. Jayakrishnan will concentrate on Palai or the wasteland, which in Tamil literature is not a naturally occurring ecology but emerges only when other landscapes wither away under the harsh, burning heat of sun. Thus the landscape is associated with separation, which occurs when love is subjected to external pressures that separate the lovers.

Drawing this into the contemporary socio-political context, Jayakrishnan will explore the theme of separation and longing of the migrant workers who go to Middle East to earn wealth, and their families who are left behind. Juxtaposing the lives of the workers and this ancient form of poetry, the project aims to interpret Palai as a metaphor for separation of lovers, through which, Jayakrishnan will explore the issues of modern forms of slavery, labour and migration.

As the ancient language of Sangam literature demands specific expertise, Jayakrishnan will work with a mentor to discuss the nuances of the poetry. In order to create a storyline with the migrant workers, he will interact with them and their families, under the mentorship of another expert with previous experience in this area. It must also be noted that Jayakrishnan has deep, personal connections with this work since a family member of his went to Dubai as a construction worker and died under mysterious circumstances there.

As an artist with a special interest in landscapes, Jayakrishnan will film various vistas across Tamil Nadu and other southern states of India with the aim of finding a suitable surrounding without going to any of the countries in the Middle East. There will also be cityscapes juxtaposed with the wasteland images as points of contraposition. The animations for the film will be superimposed on real images to emphasise the narrative of the film. Music will play an important role by creating ambiance for the various experiences of love, separation, longing and grief of the lovers. The outcome of this project will be an experimental film-essay embedded in a trans-media installation, which will be submitted to IFA at the end of the project.

From programmatic perspective, this project addresses IFA’s mandate of supporting projects that explore new ways of conducting research in the arts, especially by practicing artists. We have previously supported visual artist Mohanakrishnan Haridasan to make a short film and a website on the life and works of K Ramanujam, who created majority of his pen and ink drawings at the Cholamandal Artists’ Village in Chennai. These two projects speak to each other in multiple ways – in both the researchers are artists; they employ their own practices as methodologies for research; the outcomes are film based; and they share a fascination for landscape, its representation, and its relevance to the emotions of human beings. The budget is commensurate with the proposal.