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A photo exhibition and a Kattaikkuttu performance hope to correct misconcepts about this art form

The Margazhi season is in full swing, but, like always, there isn’t a single koothu performance scheduled. Though it saddens her, it has never disheartened Hanne M de Brui, who, along with her husband P Rajagopal, has been working towards sustaining and popularising the state’s 3traditional folk theare, Kattaikkuttu, through their non-profit organisation, Kattaikkuttu Sangam. “Now, on the Sangam’s 25th anniversary, we want to create visibility for koothu and our work—especially among urban audiences who believe it is a dying art form,” begins Brui.
She has teamed up with A Prathap, a photographer with a leading city-based newspaper, to put up a photography exhibition at Amethyst. “I have chosen 13 pictures from my personal collection, which show the new generation involved in koothu,” explains Prathap. “Though I am a news photographer, I love shooting the arts. For the last few years, I have been travelling to Kanchipuram to document the performances and the children who are studying at Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam (the Sangam’s school),” adds the 32-year-old.
The way ahead
Located in Punjarasantankal village, 8 km from Kanchipuram, the gurukulam was established in 2002—not only to train children of koothu performers, but also to provide formal education (certified by the Tamil Nadu Private School Recognition and Regulation Act). “It was my husband’s dream, since he had to stop studying at the age of 10 when he took up koothu. Besides 44 boys currently studying with us, we also have 14 girls. In koothu, only men perform. But we are trying to emphasise that girls need a voice on stage, too. It is key to the survival of the art form,” says Brui, who has a PhD from the University of Leiden, Netherlands, for her research on Kattaikkuttu.
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Canvas tales
The e xhibition, titled  Transf-orming Culture, Transforming Lives, will kick off with a short half-hour performance by Rajagopal and a few of his students. “This is the first exhibition of its kind in the city and a performance would help connect the visuals with the art form,” Brui says, adding that the pictures have all been printed on canvas, rather than paper, so nothing can “distract from them”. Next, they plan to take it to DakshinaChitra and Pondicherry.

From Rs.30,000 onwards. At Amethyst, from 7 pm to 8.30 pm, January 7 – 28. Details: kattaikkuttu.org

—Surya Praphulla Kumar

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