Walking with the Colossus - On the Art & Times of Kanayi Kunjiraman

Eminent Sculptor

It was during the late 1960's when Kanayi Kunhiraman returned to Kerala after his study in the Institute of Fine Arts in Madras under K C S Panicker and later in the Slade School of Art in London under Rug Butler, that an obvious change in sculpture in public space was felt for the first time. Kanayi brought about a landmark change in the perception of public space sculpture.

Kunhiraman's Yakshi, the gigantic nude female figure in Malampuzha in open public space was controversial as it was beautiful. It was also an epoch making figure because it ignited ideas such as the significance of art, meaning of art, concept of public art and forms in art. Yakshi was in the public space. Thus the idea of sculpture in the public space was defined for the first time in Kerala.

Later Kunhiraman created one of the excellent sculptures in India, MUKKOLA PERUMAL in front of the GCDA (Greater Cochin Development Authority) office in Kochi. As a result, figuration, abstraction, space definition and above all the meaning of public space became the subjects of discussion connected with sculptural art. It was Kanayi Kunhiraman who redefined public space with sculptures for the first time and later he took up many sculpture/landscaping projects in various parts of Kerala under the tourism development program of the Government of Kerala.

Kunhiraman's works in various parts of Kerala became non-museum art forms in different ways. The landscaping of the Veli Village in Thiruvanathapuram and the functional temporary installation he did in 1979 in front of Kanakakunnu palace in Thiruvanathapuram by using indigenous perishable maertials such as areca plam stumps, sand, stone and coir also extended the concept of spec in public in different dimensions. The earliest installation was the one he did in front of Tagore Theatre in Thiruvanatahapuram in the form of art gate. His permanent installation is seen in Veli where the 'conch lake' has a 50 feet long hollow conch made in concrete with live fish, avian visitors and indigenous plants adding to the serenity and splendour of the surroundings. It is one of kind not seen anywhere in the world.

JALAKANYAKA (mermaid) with its resplendent pose is not just a sculpture but a landmark of Shanghumukham Beach. It is the only mermaid sculpture in India and perhaps one of the largest in the world. The exquisite Little Mermaid that overlooks the Copenhagen harbor in Denmark is tiny in comparison.

Kanayi created a number of trophies as per the request of various cultural organizations. The trophies he made were unique as each one can be considered an art piec of independent aestheitic existence. Retired Professor of Sculpture Kanayi Kunhiraman says that his works are not just for decoration but for thought. He has done a number of paintings and recently has authored a number of poems with social thoughts, which were eventually translated into Hindi and other languages.

Kanayi's basic instincts were derived from the culture of the place he was born. The THEYYAM THARA (the auspicious ground for the Theyyam performances in North Kerala) and the mother goddess cult of his village are his potential energy sources. His numerous reliefs, public sculptures, open air sculptures show his basic concept of nativism. Sculptor, painter, landscape artist and finally poet committed to social causes Kanayi is of the view that art is for the people and society, not for sale and to be auctioned in market places. In Kerala Kanayi Kunhiraman name has become synonymous with sculpture.

Kerala has had many painters but only one name - Raja Ravi Varma - is known to all. Kerala no doubt has its share of sculptors, nevertheless the word 'sculpture' itself has become synonymous with Kanayi Kunhiraman.

Today Kanayi tirelessly works in open space on different projects that create a new aesthetic awareness of the linkages between human beings, other creatures, nature, architecture, art forms and humanity. Totally devoted to the field of art, he interacts with society not only through his sculptures but through different mediums of communication and expression. He continues to be averse of museum displays and other forms of commercialization of art.