Garuda - the gigantic legendary bird, dancing Gopikas, naughty Krishna dancing atop Kaliya, the ferocious Narasimha, ravishing maidens of Indra Sabha, venomous snakes, flying elephants and so many other characters from Hindu mythology which were once confined to lamp lit, dim passages of temples, perhaps longing for an audience, have over the past few years slowly migrated from within these lanes of tradition into stylish living rooms, hotel lobbies, onto lamp shades, crockery, shirts, saris and everything else under the Sun! While this journey of murals into mainstream art has been remarkable, it has also translated itself into business prospects for many. However, there are a few people out there who have chosen to invest these gains into charity and one of such phenomenal personalities is Dubai based, Malayalee muralist Vanaja Valsakumar.
As you begin speaking to her, at first one meets a very ordinary Keralite housewife, mother and a doting grandmother whose life revolves around her family and their well being. But as you delve deeper, one meets an exemplary artist whose art lies scattered across various mediums and art forms – someone, who has traversed nearly four decades across the landscape of art, mostly in total obscurity! She trained first under Artist Mallika Paul and then a few years ago she commenced lessons under Artist Padmini. Surprisingly, she has never been drawn towards the glamour of the contemporary art world, she has never held a show, nor been to a biennale, yet her home studio in Dubai is a workshop of sorts from where she has been creating brilliant pieces of art such has Tanjore paintings, metal embossed art, ceramic flowers, acrylic paintings and murals.
A few years into her practice she suffered a setback being diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis which impaired her hands forcing her into a hiatus for a while. Today the unstoppable artist is back with striking murals that take months to complete; the process is long, cumbersome, calling for great concentration, patience, often demanding a massive investment of her time but she says that the result is always a 'labour of love'. Her murals are known for their impeccable strokes and beautiful visages; needless to say grace.
She does not plan into the future and does not wish to make major statements in the art world. With charity close to her heart all that she wishes to do is to be able to serve the downtrodden and she achieves this by creating art that will fetch her the funds to realise this dream. In a world full of prodigious artists it is not every day that you come across a philanthropist!