And a soul. And ears to take in the noise around them. But Rashmi Rajgopal believes that the murals and paintings of Anjolie Ela Menon have more than just the basic senses.
Mumbai: For those of you living in South Mumbai, you must be familiar with Khyber, the restaurant right opposite Rhythm House/Westside (depending on which side of the road you’re viewing it from). For some of you, “must be familiar” is a gross understatement and a personal offense. You’re a legend at Khyber. Maybe you play a counting game in which you disappear amidst the food in front of you and emerge again breathless, shamelessly grinning, unable to conceal your greed. And then dive right in again. But you’re still no competition for the other kind of legend at Khyber—the silent ones that stare back at you from the comfort of their walled-in homes. The murals have their eyes on you.
But sit back and enjoy the food—this post isn’t about your awful eating habits. This post is about the artist who breathed life into the walls of restaurants and airports. Like the Indira Gandhi International Airport, Terminal 3. Let’s talk about Padma Shri awardee Anjolie Ela Menon. If you recollect, she was recently given the Dayawati Modi Award for her “outstanding genius and significant contributions to Indian Art and Culture”.
Sure, accomplished people win awards, you say almost dismissively. But you also admit that there’s something mesmerising about Menon’s creations: her choice of palette and medium; the warm undertones and the subtle glow emanating from those faces staring back at you with their hollowed-out eyes. The eyes. Those irreplicable eyes.
Menon’s artistic evolution has taken place over the span of five (and more) decades. She began painting intuitively in her teenage years. Perhaps intuition wasn’t enough. Intuition was probably that skinny kid in the playground that struggled to push the swing high enough. Who was to help her? Menon’s encounter with the modern art movement in Europe, her formal schooling at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, her extensive travails, the influence of Byzantium and Romanesque art…they gave her that giant push in the direction of epicness. And then there’s her signature oil-on-masonite, a choice she describes as “a happy accident”. Masonite gave her works a whole new texture…and the art world must’ve been pretty happy about the “accident” themselves. And so Menon has continued with her stunning portraits, each oozing character and narrative potential (from my pov).
Which brings us back to the murals of Khyber, each with their own story, their eyes fixed upon you as you gulp down dish after dish. Scroll back to the very first image. That apple she’s holding, the bird perched on his hand? Nope, they’re just there to make you think you’re not being watched. Anjolie Ela Menon’s murals will follow you, right till you step outside Khyber, slightly nervous, perhaps haunt you way after your meal. Hey, maybe that is their true purpose. All art has a purpose, right?