M V Bhaskar is a graphics, design and imaging specialist with an academic publishing services company. In 2004, he worked as the archivist on a project documenting the Nayaka murals of Tamil Nadu with Dr Balusamy, Head of the Department of Tamil, Madras Christian College. In 2007, he was also involved in a project to document and archive Tamil-Brahmi stone inscriptions for the Central Institute of Classical Tamil. Bhaskar has since become completely absorbed in bringing his multipronged practice of investigating art history, science and technology together with education, entertainment, utility and public interest. This grant supports Bhaskar to explore altemative forms of mural conservation, reconstruction restoration through the replication of 17th century Ramayana murals of the Chengarn Venugopala Parthasarthy temple, on other media, such as Kalamkan' and digital animation.
Reflecting on the context of conservation and restoration of mural paintings, Bhaskar explains, “In recent memory, many mural painting sites have been ‘conserved/restored’ using questionable methods. This has ranged from chemical cleaning, spraying ‘protective’ coats, and in fiequent and extreme cases, over painting, all highly intrusive forms.” Not being a professional conservator or restorer himself, Bhaskar has pursued his passion through grassroot experience and selfvdriven studies. Towards extending his own professional skills of scientific illustration, he began to think about and explore murals using digital technologies. Bhaskar remarks that “the lack of necessary qualifications to touch the mural paintings has helped me see the state of the art differently and led me to the conclusion, even if questionable, that the more qualified one is for ‘touching’ the murals, the more the reason that one should avoid doing so.”
Over the years, Bhaskar has developed a special, and complex, digital technique to meticulously document mural paintings. As mural paintings occupy walls and ceilings that often stretch across hundreds of feet, it is almost impossible to photograph them as a single picture. “It is too much painting on too little film,” he explains. Therefore, Bhaskar’s approach is to photograph murals in many several small parts and then digitally ‘stitch’ them together to make a whole. Once stitched, the paintings become intelligible, but not shareable due to the high image resolution. To facilitate this, Bhaskar then digitally traces the images using a stylus and touch pad as Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). Being pure line art, these artworks can be used for mechanised reproduction on any material—glass, metal, wood, paper and cloth. Such scale-independent line art will be one of the important components and a powerful by-product of Bhaskar’s mural documentation project. This line art will serve as a valuable archival resource and can be used to investigate details of the murals—scenes, characters, costumes and jewellery.
The Chengam murals are a compact presentation of the Ramayana, on a square ceiling (mukha mantapa) of 30’ x 30’. Documenting this compact mural allows for a focused and more detailed documentation and archival process. Further to the tracing, Bhaskar will undertake a reconstruction and replication process with Sri. Ramachandriah, a Kalamkari artist from Kalahasti, and an Andhra State awardee and record-holder for the world’s largest Kalamkari ever produced. Bhaskar and Ramachandriah have worked together extensively in the past to draw the lost lines within the lines of murals. “For centuries, mural art and tapestry were parallel and crossover art forms,” Bhaskar explains. In his view therefore, Kalamkari tapestries are the best archival medium for murals as the cloth can survive for centuries, as attested by the multitude of centuries-old Kalamkari cloths in mnseurns all over the world. Bhaskar is confident that “Ramachandriah’s intuitive grasp of how a missing line should be filled in, his awareness of the ‘lakshanas’, his incredible sense of colour, and his unusual comfort in handling large pieces,” will ensure that one of the key objectives of this project, to create an actual size canopy of the ceiling piece at Chengam, will be achieved. It is important to note that this unique Kalamkari replication of the mural makes an immovable wall durable, thus potentially creating a travelling exhibit. Also, this process of work returns heritage art to the artist, opens up an alternative channel for conservation, and makes this cloth painting a setting for a stage performance of the story or sequence depicted in it.
Since the basis of all murals is that they tell a story, Bhaskar is interested in making these narratives communicate in a modern way. As part of this project, Bhaskar will also produce an animated short film of the Ramayana murals of the Chengam Venugopala Parthasarathy temple. In his View, “these south Indian murals are frilly finished storyboards, waiting to be interpreted on animated film.” To facilitate a more ‘authentic’ audio source for the film, Bhaskar will record oral narratives that are close to the stories on the murals. Musicians who still play some of the ancient instruments represented in the murals will also be invited to create audio layers. In terms of style, the film will fuse real elements with imagined elements. The realities will include the structural context of the painting like the temple precincts, the storyteller and the actual painting. These will be transformed into the imagined state of the restored, reconstructed look, in which the actual narrative will unfold. The film will be a composite of video, 3d-animation rendered as 2d, rotosccpy, and some basic transition effects. Bhaskar adds, “This effort too will be a crossover for all those engaged. The traditional artist will extend his practice to draw key frames for the animation, while the artists of the digital domain will learn the ornate linearity and the colour palette unique to these paintings.”
The entire project will be uploaded onto a website which will contain a catalogue of indexed characters for ready reference. Bhaskar feels that this is the best way to inexpensively publish such rich, multilingual, multimedia content and to create a public space to debate the politics of knowledge systems, explore new forms of restoration and conservation and pressure other publicly funded projects to be more in the public domain. The nature of this project and the constitution of the team naturally promote extension of art practice at various levels. Bhaskar, the scientific illustrator, works with literary epics; Ramachandriah, the traditional Kalamkari artist becomes an archivist, restorer, and key frame illustrator for animation. Additionally, the leather puppeteer becomes the narrator for figures animated by someone else, musicians are recorded for the film, and performing artists and dancers contribute to the movements and the language of gesture that will be fused into the animated characters. Most importantly, immobile mural comes off the crumbling wall and fuses with vibrant, contemporary expression.
This description is part of the institutional records created by IFA at the onset of the grant. The project may have changed in due course as reflected in the deliverables from the Grantee.
Grant No : 2010-0-023
Grantee Name : M V Bhaskar
Programme : Extending Arts Practice
Grant Status : Completed
Start Date : 31-03-2011
End Date : 31-03-2013
Duration : Two years
Grant Amount : 5,90,800
Geographical Area of Work : Tamil Nadu
Disciplinary Field of Work : Visual Arts