Sridhar from Coimbatore has won the Alkazi Theatre Archives Theatre Photography Grant 2020.

photographer of sridhar
Features Photography Wednesday, September 02, 2020 - 17:26

“We all hold the landscape that we call home, inside of us. Theatre artists, folk artists in particular, know how best to express a given landscape’s pain and emotions. My body of work is based on this idea,” begins photographer Sridhar Balasubramaniyam. Sridhar, who hails from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, won the Alkazi Theatre Archives Theatre Photography Grant 2020 from the Delhi-based The Alkazi Foundation for the Arts, from among 10 shortlisted applications across the country. His work, Body Landscape, captures the soul and memories of a landscape with theatre artists acting as the enablers.

Sridhar, who has been travelling with theatre artists over the past six to seven years, talks about his accidental entry into photography. “I wanted to direct films, in fact. But my introduction to acclaimed writer Konangi was a turning point,” says the Computer Science graduate.

From there, he was led to Manal Magudi, a theatre group that consists of artists coming from different walks of life. It was thus that he had the opportunity of meeting the group's director S Murugaboopathy.

This was his gateway into the world of ancient art forms, rituals and traditions in Tamil Nadu. The year was 2013 and Sridhar began traveling extensively with Manal Magudi. “I would photograph and video document their travel, their shows and eventually I became a part of one of their productions,” he tells TNM.

Sridhar, who worked as an observer and a documenter of Manal Magudi’s journey in producing Kugaimaravasigal (Dwellers of the Hunger Caves), became a part of their next production, Maaya Komaligalin Jaala Kannadigal.

“I was able to observe firsthand how the group worked. They would plunge themselves into years of research and then work on the play. It would be more of an immersive, bodily expense, very different from a dialogue play theatre,” Sridhar explains.

While working on Kugaimaravasigal with Manal Magudi, Sridhar discovered the bommai (doll) culture in Tamil Nadu. “From the Panguni Pongal tradition prevalent in the Sivakasi region, our journey culminated in Alagar Kovil in Puducherry. Here is a temple in which people would offer dolls as tribute. It was quite interesting for me to document all this,” he adds. This play was essentially on the lives of migrant labourers employed as folk musical instruments, and had themes from ancient rituals, dolls and the likes to deliver a profound act.

However, Sridhar’s experience in working on their next play, Maaya Komaligalin Jaala Kannadigal (Illusional Clowns' Mystique Mirror), made a lasting impact. “I was part of that play. I researched it for about a year-and-a-half, during which time I visited temples in parts of Tamil Nadu to draw inspirations. We then prepared for about four to five months before finally performing it in 2016. It created a path to reach my inner self," he says.

This all-encompassing performance about humans trying to find their way back into nature, has been performed across India..

Sridhar, who was more of an introvert, found himself exploring new ranges in his emotions while performing in Manal Magudi. “I cannot begin to explain my experience from that performance. But I did gain a deep love for the language of theatre plays and how they are used to communicate ideas, emotions… All of this experience was indeed important for my whole journey as an artist,” he says.

Sridhar continues, “At Manal Magudi, artists work with their bodies. They express all emotions through their body and they talk not just for humans but also for animals, birds and other beings. During my travels, I have been able to notice how when it comes to Dravidian rituals, land and body are the main elements. Take nattupura (folk) songs, folklores, etc for instance. Over the years I’ve collected images of landscapes and bodies and I feel the distance between the two is growing. This is something I want to be able to discuss through my work.”

Sridhar, who became a photographer by chance credits photographer Pia Sam for introducing him to the world of photography and photographer Yannick Cormier for being an inspiration. “Pia directed me towards a photography circle from where I picked up the basics of photo editing. Yannick has always been encouraging and was instrumental in helping me with my very first exhibit in 2017,” he shares. Now, for his application for the Alkazi Grant, he was greatly assisted by photographer Sathish and writer Muthuvel.

Sridhar, who now has the Grant money of Rs 1.5 lakh from the Alkazi Foundation, plans on travelling across Tamil Nadu to sketch out landscapes as documented in Sangam literature.

“There is nothing superior to Sangam literature when it comes to documenting landscapes. These works have already beautifully captured the five landscapes and its people - Kurinji (mountain), Mullai (forest), Maurdham (fields), Neithal (coast) and Paalai (desert). But today, with globalisation, these landscapes have now merged. The core idea is to be able to represent them as they are today using the bodies of performance artists. This representation is part of the global fabric and will find similarities across the world,” he adds.

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