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Artist of the Day | Surendran Nair

Surendran Nair

Wheatear 2016 Oil on canvas 53 × 35 in; 134.6 × 88.9 cm


Surendran Nair studied Painting at the College of Fine Arts in Kerala and completed a post diploma in Printmaking at the University of Baroda in India. He has had several solo shows of his work apart from participating in prominent group exhibitions. Recent solo exhibitions include Spatial Arrangements of Colors, Lines, Forms and Desires, Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai, India (2015), Surendran Nair: Drawings, Print and Watercolours (1970s-1990s), Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), New Delhi, India (2015), Neti Neti, Frey Norris Gallery, San Francisco, CA, U.S. (2010), and The Bad Behaviour of Singularities, presented by Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai at Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, India (2006). Prominent group exhibitions include Whorled Explorations curated by Jitish Kallat, Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kochi, India (2015), Looking Glass: The Existence of Difference, Twenty Indian Contemporary Artists presented by Religare Arts Initiative, New Delhi in collaboration with American Centre; British Council; Goethe-Institut/ Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi, India (2010), Anxious, Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Mumbai, India (2008), Horn Please: Narratives in Indian Contemporary Art, Kunnst Museum, Bern, Switzerland, Edge of Desire: Recent Art In India, Asia Society Museum, New York (2005), Capital and Karma - Recent Positions in Indian Art, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria (2002), and The 1st Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan (1999).

Cuckoonebulopolis: (Flora and) Fauna is a collection of paintings and drawings inspired by The Birds, a play by the Greek playwright Aristophanes. In the play, a man convinces birds to establish their new city in the clouds, later named Cloud Cuckoo Land, which translates to Cuckoonebulopis. At the heart of Nair’s work is the notion of this nebulous utopia – he reflects on the strange, ironic, andsometimes improbable possibilities that humans dream of when designing a utopia.

The cycle of works, Cuckoonebulopolis, has grown immensely since early 2000, when Nair first took on the project. He draws and paints his imagined actors from The Birds, dressed in elaborate costumes and masks, taking on the identity of various birds (flamingoes, owls, sparrows and pelicans, to name a few). His loose, long, and whimsical titles hint at his initially lighthearted and humorous approach; however, as he realized the nuances between the “cuckoo” birds and their utopia, Nair clarified their relationship to the clouds with his unique iconography, drawing from traditional performing arts, history and mythology, and the real and imaginary.

The works, however, are not in any way meant as arguments against or in favor of any particular manifestation of utopian desires. Nair’s interest in utopia stops at the very basic threshold, where and when it makes one compelled to imagine something other than what is already in existence. It is not the proposal for an alternative future that interests him, but the critical engagement with the present. This idea is then employed as a backdrop, a theatrical device, to sharpen the contours of Nair’s images whilst they are at play, to accentuate the tenor of whatever they may address.

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