Theyyam #4

I started painting large faces on canvas a few years ago. They were borne as a response to a painting of a Theyyam dancer I had done as a gift for Good Homes Magazine. See the link here.

While doing research for that first painting I found that it takes the dancer many hours before he is ready. The dancer almost goes into a trance by the end of the entire ‘dressing up’ phase which includes 8-10 hours of face painting after which he dons the elaborate costume. By the end he is said to channel the divine within himself.

I got thinking and wanted to paint the face of the dancer when it was still just a man with a painted face and not anyone channeling divinity yet.

Which in turn led me to start painting faces where we use marks as masks. It does not matter whether the entire face is painted or there are some caste/religious marking – horizontal or vertical across the face/forehead. I find even make up is a mask of sorts…

This series is an effort to show the man behind the mask with all the fallibility and irreverence of man.

Do have a look at the progression video of this final painting. You can see additional work on my Instagram feed and my Youtube channel

As a theme, Theyyam lends itself well to artistic interpretations. By it’s very nature, it brings forth goodwill to those in its presence and promises to ward off evil.

Theyyam is an artistic dance form where metaphysical thoughts and expressions of immortal souls are impersonated by a believer through a mortal body. Theyyam originated from “Kaliyattam” once practiced by the tribal community of north Kerala. Theyyam has grown to the present form through many transformations since it’s origin. Landlords and chieftains of those days are the main forces behind many of such transformations. The community and its body began to use this art to propagate the major theme of social enforcement. The artists are also encouraged by the authorities to introduce new themes into its traditional layers and classified different acts and expressions to match specific needs for their desire. The character representations were very broad. They range from mild to wild in representations.

Theyyam is a sect in which old heroes are sanctified and worshiped as the guardians of villages and homes. Yet, it includes a complex universe centred on the belief that a man can—after suitable mental, physical and spiritual preliminaries—don the costume of a particular deity and then become that deity. In this elevated state he assumes superhuman and divine powers—speaking, moving, blessing and even healing as a god or goddess. What is crucial is that the person is not possessed by the spirit of the deity. It’s important to understand that Theyyam has a larger purpose that goes beyond the territories of performance – to all those in attendance, it assures assistance and security during times of crisis, promising to resolve all their conflicts.

You can read about Theyyam here –

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