Madras can be anyone’s muse. The city has inspired art, music, literature and more. Many have found it to be a comforting and warm city. True to this conviction, ‘Madras’ was artist Hemalatha Venkatraman’s muse, inspiring her recent 'Madras In Mini' series.
The 26-year-old Chennai based artist is a Graduate Teaching Associate at The Ohio State University. On her recent trip to Chennai after a gap of over two years, she decided to capture the city and all its quirky elements in miniature art.
What started as a quick way to substitute live-sketches, 'Madras In Mini' shaped up to be a whole different project that helped put Hemalatha under the spotlight. Her sketches had the ubiquitous tea-kadai, flower-seller and even the drishti bommai you find on lorries.
Hemalatha shares that her idea was to revisit places that played an important role in her formative years in Chennai and therefore there are pictures of her school, college, local sandwich joint and even her tailor.
The sketches were made on watercolour paper and later cut out. These miniature art pieces are also accompanied by a description of the significance they hold in the city/in her life. In one of her posts she writes, “A ‘thooli’ is a traditional hammock for babies constructed using a (cotton) saree. A regular 6 yards saree is connected to a hook/rope that is hung from the ceiling, and the saree is knotted and attached to it. […] All of us grew up in these hammocks, being rocked to sleep in our mother’s/grandmother’s/great-grandmother’s saree. The kind of connection I have to it is precious because I look at it as a means to connect with the matriarchs of a family, those living and long-gone. Sarees are a sentimental artifact passed down from one generation to another.”
Hemalatha explains, “I love places and the stories they have to tell. I’m a very spaces and things person.” However, 'Madras In Mini' is not her first ode to the city. Hemalatha has previously worked on a Madras-themed postcard series. “They sold out and I had to reprint twice!” she says.
She has currently signed herself up for the '100 Days of Teabag Art' that’s currently doing the rounds on social media. The idea is to repurpose teabags into a work of art, thereby reducing the waste generated. Hemalatha is also toying with the idea of using soldering techniques to create mixed-media art.
Her idea of mixed media does not stop there. A poet as well, Hamalatha plans on illustrating poems in the near future. “I have not decided if it’s going to be Thirukkural or Bharathiyar poems yet,” she adds.
Hemalatha shares that 'Madras In Mini' has helped change the way she looks at her city. “Although the city has not changed much, the way I look at it definitely has. I always keep thinking what makes this place home. There’s definitely something about her. Madras is always very special.”
Hemalatha goes on to observe how the recent Metro has changed the city’s landscape. “I’ve seen Madras from local trains, buses, on foot, and also from planes. However, I’ve never been underground or seen parts of the city from that vantage point. I saw a whole different perspective to the city while riding the Metro. The city’s rooftops are a great sight to behold. There are applams being sun-dried on one, cloth-lines with laundry, mini gymnasiums, bamboo sticks… The City from an elevation surely is an interesting sight,” she says.
With her inclination towards urban design and research, Hemalatha adds that although the city has heritage buildings boards to help preserve structures, initiatives will have to come from the citizens for the conservation plans to work better. “Chennai stands second, right after Kolkatta, in the number of heritage structures. The people here will have to stay more conscious of what they possess. We’ll have to explore ways in which such building can be preserved,” she says, adding, “Take a bus and walk around. You’ll see the city for what it is.”