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Heavy metal

Balan Nambiar's works are based on nature motifs, despite the industrial quality of his working environment



One of Balan Nambiar's sculptures, at the ING Vysya Bank building, on M.G. Road. — Photo: K. Bhagya Prakash

BALAN NAMBIAR, one of India's most renowned artists, has an art studio that more closely resembles an industrial warehouse. The artist's celebrated stainless steel sculptures often weigh several tonnes and require a broad range of technical engineering equipment to design, cut, weld, and assemble. In the studio premises, just off Old Madras Road, blowtorches, polishers, and cutters, and scrap metal litter the floor and a handful of qualified helpers are always on hand to help the artist construct his computer-aided designed and laser-cut sculptures. The execution of this high-tech art is no mean feat and would not be possible, as Balan Nambiar admits, without the technical expertise he acquired whilst working formerly as a railway draughtsman.

Despite the industrial quality of his working environment and metallic art materials, there is nothing mechanical about Balan Nambiar's art. The themes of his work are based around nature motifs and in the studio you can recognise tall, slender, upwardly curving stainless steel lengths as rice plants, or the planetary movements, represented by suspended, integrated elliptical spheres.

Much of Balan Nambiar's inspiration stems from his Kerala roots and from his extensive research on the ritual performing arts of the west coast of India, some of which he has documented, through photography and published reports, for the first time. Currently, he is working on an extended version of an existing sculpture, Mirror Idol of Bhagavati, a stainless steel artistic representation of the Mother Goddess shrines of Kerala, which contain no figurative idols, only a metallic mirror in which devotees see their own reflection. For Balan Nambiar: "This is the highest form of worship, where divinity can be found in oneself."

Perhaps this symbolism appeals because the artist himself has always sought to develop his artistic career introspectively. Balan Nambiar has always resisted entering conventional art circles, or what he calls, "group art politics and cliques," which he thought might compromise his artistic originality. He undertook formal art training at the relatively late age of 27 and claims he, "never sought sponsorship, nor compromised on artistic creativity". Most recently, he refused to incorporate a brand motif on a stainless steel sculpture commissioned by a company. Negotiations went back and forth, but Balan Nambiar stood his ground, and the wrangling continued right up until the day of installing the finished piece, where it remains today for all to see, minus any alterations.



The artist at work in his studio. — Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

It is this attitude to his work that has lead Balan Nambiar to call the cactus, a motif which he uses extensively in his sculptures, his "autobiography". A plant, that he says, "asserts its right to exist in an uncongenial world".

Though stringent in ensuring that his sculptures and enamel paintings are true to his artistic creativity alone, Balan Nambiar is by no means possessive of his artworks, believing that, "once art is executed, its monumentality means that it ceases to become the property of the artist." His preference is to exhibit outdoors, where his work can receive maximum public exposure. Since the successful temporary outdoor exhibition of 24 of his sculptures around the Hotel Grand Ashok in 1975, Balan Nambiar has been planning to establish a permanent public garden of about 70 sculptures at the Planetarium Campus in Bangalore. About 20 sculptures have been completed for the garden project, which Balan Nambiar describes as his, "dream". He concludes: "It is important for me that my work is left to humanity in an environment that allows it to integrate with nature, the most constant theme throughout my artistic career. I want Bangalore itself to become my museum."

AGNIESZKA HINDLEY

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