Arjun Vengara’s Theyyam Installation: A Tribute to Kerala’s Warrior Women

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A Fascinating Journey Through Theyyam

Step into the heart of Bharat Bhavan, the cultural hub of the capital, and you’ll be greeted by a striking figure reminiscent of Theyyam. Adorned in vivid face paint, rich red hues, and elaborate costumes, this installation by artist Arjun Vengara beckons you into a world of ancient tales and timeless traditions.

The interplay of light streaming through the roof enhances the installation, illuminating the figure in a fiery glow. It stands as a powerful homage to the resilient women of Kerala, who fought valiantly for social change.

The Inspiration Behind the Art

Arjun Vengara, the creative force behind this installation, shares, “I don’t know why, but Theyyam never fails to amaze me. My journey in art has taken me around the world, but Theyyam remains a deeply personal and special subject.”

Growing up in a small village in Kannur, where Theyyam rituals are an integral part of life, Arjun’s fascination with this art form was natural. His passion for discovering form in formlessness drove him to create art that transcends time and place, bridging cultures and speaking directly to the soul.

A Legacy of Artistic Excellence

Arjun’s artistic journey began in childhood, his talent for drawing paving the way for a 15-year career in the film industry. His artistic legacy extends across India, with sculptures adorning revered sites such as Kannur’s Mangattuparambu and temples nationwide. Notable works include towering figures like the 18-feet-tall Muchilottu Bhagavathy and the 12-feet-tall Thiruvappan.

“I’ve been fortunate to blend my passion for art with my love for temples and ritual art forms,” Arjun says.

Versatility in Art and Acting

Arjun’s talents extend beyond painting and sculpting. He acted in the award-winning play ‘Pulijanmam,’ which was later adapted into a film. In cinema, his versatility shone through as he contributed to art direction for numerous films, creating sculptures that sometimes reached 40 feet in height.

A Deep Dive into Theyyam

Arjun’s dedication to Theyyam led him to six years of extensive research. He discovered that there are nearly 400 different Theyyam traditions, though some are known by multiple names, resulting in around 140 unique Theyyams. Learning the art of Mukhathezhuth (face painting) from various communities, he mastered 101 styles.

To Arjun, Theyyam is a celebration of mythical strength, exemplified through face painting, ornaments, attire, rhythms, performances, and songs. His installation at Bharat Bhavan, named ‘Amma Theyyam,’ symbolizes the spirit of Kerala’s women who fought for social change.

Honoring Muchilottu Bhagavathi

A significant aspect of Arjun’s work is the representation of Muchilottu Bhagavathi Theyyam, a deity with a compelling history. This revered figure embodies the courage and resilience of a Brahmin maiden who challenged societal norms and transformed into a goddess.

The Craft of Creation

Arjun’s choice of fibre for his sculptures, as opposed to cement or brass, ensures durability and a lighter weight. He uses acrylic paints for their ease of use, aiming for a lasting impression.

The installation at Bharat Bhavan also includes other Theyyam faces, such as the fiery Kuttichathan and the serene Valiyathamburatti, each adding depth to the display.

Future Endeavors

Arjun plans to share his sculptures with the world through a 10-day exhibition in Thiruvananthapuram and aims for a Guinness World Record for the sculptures of 101 Theyyam. Additionally, an opportunity to work at the BAPS Hindu Mandir in Abu Dhabi has inspired him to explore Gulf art culture.

With the launch of the Craft Gallery in Abu Dhabi, Arjun envisions merging Gulf influences with his artistic vision and establishing a local branch to introduce the community to Gulf cultures.

Arjun Vengara’s Theyyam installation is not just a tribute to Kerala’s warrior women but a testament to the power of art in bridging cultures and celebrating resilience.

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