From Taiwan - for the love of murals
Hsuan Chen Liu’s paintings are eclectic like her quest for art which brought her to Kerala to learn classical dance.
After taking her high school arts degree in Taiwan she came to India to learn dance. Her first stop was Pushkar, Rajasthan, which is, curiously, not known as a place for dance but for spiritual pursuits. But she assures that there are dance schools there which teaches semi- classical dance forms as well as folk dances like Bangra, Goomer etc. She spent four years in Pushkar, finding money to pay for her dance lessons by doing mehandi (henna) designs for a beauty salon. And finally when she was getting ready to go back to her home town in Taiwan, an encounter with famous Bollywood choreographer Ms. Saroj Khan happened. She joined Khan’s dance troup, moved to Mumbai and for the next four years worked as a junior artist performing dance numbers in various movies.
Then again she was rethinking about the meaning of performing fast numbers and popular dances without understanding the nuances of it. She wanted to go deep, but was not sure how to. Again fate worked a twist as she went to perform in a cultural programme for Indian Embassy. A Malayalee officer, who watched her dance, suggested her body movements are best suited for Mohiniyattam.
Till that moment Hsuan Chen Liu –Jennifer is her common name - has not even heard about such a dance form. Further enquires and her relentless enthusiasm brought her to Kerala Kala Mandalam, Cheruthuruthy where she found her vocation. For the last two years she is learning Mohiniyattam, first under the famous danseuse Kalamandalam Husna Bhanu, then under the tutelage of Kalamandalam Hymavathy and Kalamandalam Sangeetha. The exposure to traditional dance forms also nurtured the painter in her and she started learning mural paintings from Bindhu Krishna. But her murals are different from the traditional style as they incorporate the elements of Chinese art into Indian images.
Her first collection of murals were exhibited at the Kerala Lalitha Kala Academy, Thrissur. Named as “Tradition Matters –Art Without Borders’’, the pictures include the various dance forms like Kathalkali, Mohiniyattam, Kuchipudi and depictions of gods such as Shiva, Kali, Ganapathy along with her all-time favourite- Krishna. As there are so many temples in Taiwan she was vaguely familiar with the gods in the Hindu god pantheon. But it was only after coming to Kerala she imbibed the stories and started painting them.
There is a certain playfulness and naivety in her conceptualization of subjects which imparts an element of charm to her paintings -Krishna sitting with two balls of butter in his hands, a black and white Ganesha looking at you mischievously, the Kali with her protruding tongue and garland of skulls in a mock angry expression, a chubby Parvathy worshipping Sivalinga, etc. In the same quirky way, she portrays her teachers and other artists with touches of childlike curiosity and enthusiasm. Her Kathakali paintings are not of larger-than life figures but ordinary mortals with great talents.
A number of pictures depicts apsara figurines both indian and chinese –feitian nushian playing her lute, an apsara with indian features in a chinese mini dress resting on a divan, a gege (princess) holding the ceremonial scepter Ruyi representing power and beauty. Her peony women at Tang, is a dedication to Tang dynasty (618-907) which was the golden era of art and craft in China.
Surasundari flies through a cloud of flowers in a relaxed mood. The yueqin apsara plays the moon guitar (yueqin), in an Urvashi like pose. The interesting aspect is that while the artist has given human touches to gods, all the apsara figures remain ethereal, celestial beings with supernatural beauty and perfect figures.
May be the picture named Mohini in which a dancer in Mohiniyattam costume looks at herself in the mirror, sums it up in the artist’s words: "She is looking at her life through the mirror, where she can find Mohini and herself. The struggle every women like me faces is to be Mohini and being myself at the same time."