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Vol. XXXIII No. 4, June 1-15, 2023

A Mottaimadi Art Exhibit

-- by Thirupurasundari Sevvel

Beyond the Venue – 1 | An occasional series on art breaking boundaries in the city

Koilpitchai Prabakar is a multi-faceted artist who works with diverse creative forms from clay sculptures, paintings inspired by Sangam literature, photorealistic art and much more, across various mediums and formats. He has also illustrated for books and created custom thematic art and art installations. Koilpitchai, who also actively conducts workshops for those interested in learning from him, studied at the Government College of Fine Arts, Egmore. He has displayed his art in many galleries in different parts of the country. His most recent exhibit in the city was marked by a personal touch, for the venue was none other than his own mottamadi.

The mottamadi exhibit.

It was four years ago, during a comfortable moment on the terrace of his rented house in Perambur that a sudden thought struck Koilpitchai – he had enjoyed many hours of leisure here, both by himself and in the company of family and friends. It was a space where people allowed their true selves to emerge into the open, engaging in conversations full of warmth and comfort as birds chirped in the surrounding greenery. The other terraces in the neighbourhood, visible from his own, have their own stories too, he realized; they were a wonderful patchwork of colours, patterns and shades, each unique and beautiful in their own way. Thus did Koilpitchai come up with the idea of hosting a show on his terrace, the beloved mottamadi that is the crown piece of every Chennai home.

The artist and his creations.

When I visited the space, I discovered that Koilpitchai had made sure to use only recycled materials to put together the mottamadi exhibit. The show started, in fact, with the artist holding a focused discussion on the subject with his architect friends and students. Left to explore the space, I discovered that the 600 square foot mottamadi was decked up in simple but elegant decor, with each exhibit carefully poised against a fitting background. Each corner was curated aesthetically and it was clear that a lot of effort had gone into the plan. The sculptures were framed in front of the beautiful terrace while the display near the stairway had as its background a tree in full bloom, its branches a burst of yellow flowers.

This year, Koilpitchai has displayed 16 acrylic paintings and ceramic sculptures on his mottamadi. The exhibit was inaugurated by his college senior and filmmaker Pa. Ranjith, who spoke about the artist’s comfort and versatility in both abstract and realistic paintings. The filmmaker made special mention of his art based on Sangam literature, which he said was among his favourites. 

Koilpitchai himself delights in creating photorealistic portrayals of the houses he comes across in his extensive travels. He sees these pieces as documentation of the numerous stories the buildings convey through their mogappu or elevation. The artist has a tale to narrate about each of these pieces, anecdotes that he has personally collected through conversations held with the inhabitants or the community. The photorealistic portrayals that were on display at the exhibit included houses from Thirunelveli, Paramakudi and Thoothukudi. “It is important to look beyond the cracks and the peeling of plasters, to know that it is part of the ageing process and what the building tries to convey,” he says.

The Solo show is open to all. Anyone interested in exploring the exhibit can walk in and will be greeted with a cup of tea and a warm smile. Sometimes, the children of the community help visitors find their way. “Mottamadi exhibition poreengala? (Are you going to the mottamadi exhibition?)” they ask and readily guide us to the location, where a lovely kolam adorned with flowers greets us in welcome. Koilpitchai says that in Europe, one can see many artists displaying their work at their own homes, using their own verandas, balconies, terraces, living rooms and parking spaces as galleries. There are maps, too, that help tourists and visitors access these displays and purchase art pieces. He emphasized that while nothing makes an artist happier than recognition for their art, the fact is that sales are important, too.

Koilpitchai Prabakar’s mottamadi art exhibit has been taking place every year over the last four years in the first week of April. He has nothing against galleries; it is only because galleries are not always open to all that he turned his terrace into an exhibit. His objective is to make art more accessible and relatable to everyone. Most of all, the initiative aims to help create interaction between artists, students and art enthusiasts looking for opportunities to display their own work. “When there is a will, there is a way,” smiles Koilpitchai.

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