Published: 10th March 2021
The #MeanwhileInKerala Project is a loud and colourful answer to current affairs in Kerala
Unnikrishna M Damodaran's recent work will be displayed at the Lokame Tharavadu art exhibition which is set to be held in Alappuzha
UMD or Unnikrishna M Damodaran is a game-changing designer and visual artist. When he's not calling customers to action for a multi-national payment company in the Middle East; he can be found playing with design and typography in Malayalam and English. Most recently, he's been poking fun at contemporary life situations in Kerala as a form of dissent through his #MeanwhileInKerala Project. With his work is all set to feature in Lokame Tharavadu, one of Kerala's largest art exhibitions organised by the State Government and the Kochi Muziris Biennale, we spoke to him about what sets his work apart. Excerpts:
1. Could you tell us about the journey that led you to becoming an artist?
Getting into the art world was incidental. In school, I was fascinated by household consumer product wrappers and used to collect toilet soap wrappers and unwrap them. I even made my own imaginary product wrappers with hand-lettering and styles. By this time, I had already gotten into drawing. I graduated from the College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram with a degree in Graphic Design (Applied Art). After graduating, I moved to Bombay (as it was then called, he laughs) and joined the field of advertising and started practising art. Ever since, I have actively watched the development of visual culture and arts around the world.
2. Your work is generally unique and loud. What themes do you gravitate towards?
Being a communication professional, it’s important to me that the target audience is reached with lesser complexity and clarity. The language and image should be simple. If you want to be heard in a verbally and visually overcrowded world, you need to be loud enough and clear enough with your message. I don’t claim my work is loud enough, but yes I do strictly follow the graphic form.
Unnikrishna M Damodaran
3. What are some of your works that you are proudest of and have been able to make a statement through?
Acceptance is a thing you gradually achieve through your perseverance, in my opinion. Each work is a statement in its own merit. To achieve such a state, art needs to communicate a higher purpose beyond its visual sensibility. One of my posts on Instagram regarding the death of a pregnant elephant received unusual attention and criticism because it ruffled and touched the Malayali psyche positively and, to a large extent, negatively too!
4. Can you describe the idea behind the #MeanwhileInKerala Project?
I have been closely observing life in Kerala and following Malayali sensibilities for quite some time now. My interest in the Malayalam vernacular and my experiments with creatively challenging Malayalam typography is evolving. Since 2008, I have been regularly making typographic art in Malayalam called “strangewordpicture”. The idea was to take one word that’s currently related to contemporary and trending political or social issues and creatively render the word in my own way. It has challenged the readability and legibility of viewers. No one reacted to it in the beginning but I kept creating these words daily. I was exploring the unconventional typographic forms in Malayalam! Gradually, like any practice, my art too evolved. Instagram gave me leeway to reach more visually like-minded people.
5. How much does your art revolve around political and social life?
Art is political. Any act of art is political and so it also concerns social life. Every image in #MeanwhileInKerala is political. In these times, my art finds most of its reach to its audience through social media. I am not sure art is an effective means of response as algorithms control the effectiveness. If you count the reach, views and likes, my art may not be effective enough! But I have a small audience following my work and no 'hall of claims to fame' here!
6. A lot of your work seems to have a satirical angle to it. Is that a conscious choice?
No, it’s not consciously done. Probably my approach to the subject itself in its essence is satirical and thereby, my work inherently demands it. My only conscious effort is to use the appropriate words within the limits of subject matter. At times, it is very objective, critical and factual. In other instances, it is portrayed through a striking and interesting riot of Malayalam and English with added fun, humour or a playful prank. You could call it an eventful journey through daily words where an absence of any direction leads me towards absurdity. One can’t help but be satirical!
7. Do you believe that art and entertainment in Kerala is evolving?
Of course. Visual art is constantly in the process of evolution. It has always been evolving. The visual sensibilities of Malayalees have evolved in Kerala and the Kochi Muziris Biennale undoubtedly acted as a catalyst for it. If you look at art school admission rates and the number of art galleries and independent shows, the impact is evident.