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Vol. XXXIII No. 7, July 16-31, 2023

A Memorable Exhibit at Majestic Madras Memorial Hall

-- by Thirupurasundari Sevvel

The Vanam Art Festival was organised as part of the Dalit History Month celebration by the Pa Ranjith-founded Neelam Cultural Centre. The event was held at the Madras ­Memorial Hall at Evening ­Bazaar Road in George Town. The building – a structure of the iconic classical style – was constructed by the British in 1860 as a thanksgiving to the gods following the sepoy mutiny. I found myself overwhelmed by the grandeur of its tall, soaring ceilings. When I passed through the gates to enter the festival, I was greeted by the striking image of exhibits displayed alongside a community kitchen set up by Untitled Kitchen. The Vanam Art Festival turned out to be a lively, interactive experience blending together art, music and food. Many talks and discussions were organised as well.

20 artists and 23 photographers came together to create this impactful exhibition, which was presented to the audience in two parts – Dalit Art and Aesthetics, an exhibit curated by artist Natarajan Gangadharan and Nitham, a photography exhibit curated by visual artist Jaisingh Nageshwaran and photographers Palani Kumar and Steevez Rodriguez. The show was inaugurated by Athiveerapandiyan, Mariya Anthoni and Alphonse Roy. While the overall theme of the festival focused on the importance of the collective voice, each of the exhibits had a distinctive voice and character. The artists showcased works in different mediums ranging from ceramic, wood and stone to beads, paper and terracotta, to name a few. 

The first exhibit that greets the visitor is one that explores the intricate links between power and media. It is strikingly positioned between the building’s towering columns, close to the main entrance. Nearby is a plywood wall that borders the community kitchen, which the audience is invited to paint as they have a sip of lime tea. The day I visited the event, I saw that everyone joined hands to help out in the kitchen, be it artist, curator or visitor. Every single person who dropped by the exhibition left with memories of a hot meal or drink, made more enjoyable by warm ­conversation and chit-chat. And there was certainly a lot to talk about – each exhibit packaged its message inside presentations both passive and interactive to provoke thought and dialogue. For instance, one of the exhibits gave visitors the opportunity to make a beaded chain or accessory that they could freely take away with them – an exchange that deliberated on a recent incident in the city where a family was denied entrance into a movie theatre even when they held bona fide tickets. There was also quite a unique, tactile sculpture of Ambedkar, surrounded by works of various artists. 

A talk by one of the art show curators.

The photography exhibit was wonderful, as well. When I spoke to Jaisingh, I discovered that the entries included oeuvre from states outside of Tamil Nadu as well, including Nepal. He stressed the importance of a collective voice and explained that an ‘insider-outsider lens’ is crucial to any serious work of documentation. The photo exhibit also displayed the work of students trained by curator Palani Kumar, who himself presented a body of work based on their parents and homes. 

The week-long Vanam Arts Festival was a celebration of art, literature and theatre. Personally, I found that a day was not enough to explore it!

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  1. C.K. SUBRAMANIAM says:


    This expansive beach is Chennai’s most famous tourist attraction, though the undercurrent is too strong for all but the strongest swimmers. Look out for the “Kannagi” statue on Marina Beach, which tells the story of the legendary character from a South Indian epic. If you are a beach kind of person who feels differently about waves and water splashing against your feet makes you the happiest then you should visit Marina Beach. It is India’s longest and world’s second longest beach. Stretching for approximately 12 kilometers, this beach is located on the eastern side of Chennai. It adjoins the Bay of Bengal. You can watch the beautiful sunset and sunrise which is a unique and soothing experience for anyone. There are some recreational activities such as horse riding. This is very famous among the people who visit Marina Beach. Bathing and swimming are prohibited due to the strong undercurrent.

    It is the best place for relaxation during both summer and winter. Once it was considered number two in beaches all over the world. The iron bridge is the entry point from the War Memorial side. Madras University building shows up in front of the beach and the Ezhilagam forms part of a long stretch of road. Both Marina cricket ground and the Chepauk Stadium are adjacent to each other for the cricket lovers. Once upon a time the Bhuhari Hotel and Edward Elliot’s beach were the main attractions. And people enjoyed Masala Dosa and vegetable cutlet along with hot coffee for your evening snack with swimming pool side.

    One of the most beautiful places to visit near Marina Beach, Santhome Cathedral Basilica is a flawless Gothic Church and is a fortune trove of engineering. Grandly rising 155 feet starting from the earliest stage, a height 112 feet by 33 feet, and a glorious haven estimating 62 feet by length and 33 feet by width, it is decorated with recoloured glass windows exempting the supporter Holy person Thomas and different messengers. These buildings hold great historical values and another one of the historical places to visit near Marina Beach is Connemara Library. This library is the pride of Madras. This place is preferred by avid book lovers and research scholars.

    Marina beach is a place of cosmopolitan nature and different classes of people go around the beach sand. When a Tsunami struck around Chennai during 2016 people strolling for a morning walk were caught flat footed and the Horlicks they brought from home as a drink after a walk all immersed in the sea water. Triggered by an earthquake in Indonesia, a massive tsunami struck the Tamil Nadu coast on December 26 morning, a Sunday, causing massive damage to life and property across the state. It was indeed an unforgettable experience.

    But the best of the best enjoyment was tasting Thenga, Manga Pattani Sundal. Children were longing to taste the Sundal in a paper made packet in the shame of a cone. Similarly the ground nut was available in different tastes, which includes steamed groundnut with salt water and with its hot nature is really tasty and relishing. People pick the stones and seashells as a pastime. Summer wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the sandy shores of an ocean, bay, lake or river. As the gritty stuff gets in between your toes, you may wonder why beaches are distinctive sandy stretches and why sand looks and feels the way it does.

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