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Spreading social messages, one art at a time 

Amoolya Rajappa
28th Sep 2017
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Bengaluru-based artist Paramesh Jolad innovates on performance art to acquaint people with contemporary issues. 

Imagine a man dressed in black walking around with a plough-like head, or a human figurine dressed like a crow (from the age-old thirsty crow story) searching for water just beside a dying freshwater lake.

Could you picture that just right?

Behind those eyeball-grabbing costumes is Paramesh D. Jolad, an artist who puts his creative capabilities to the best use in showcasing hard-hitting realities that bother civic societies.

From creating ornamental thermocol buses when he was a child to giving powerful art performances, Paramesh’s journey has been an extraordinary one. Hailing from a farming family in Bagalkot’s Kodihal village, his fascination for art was persistently discouraged in teenage years. The ambitious artist had to move out of home and fight against many odds before he trained at an art school in Dharwad and ended up with an apprenticeship in a Goan ship building company.

My first job involved designing signboards and painting large steamers in the Goa shipyard. I hated the routine nature of that job in a factory environment and hence used to spend many leisure hours admiring various artworks at the Panaji art gallery. Soon, I quit my regular job to pursue my interests in art full-time, recalls Paramesh, who went on to finish college after a 17-year break.

Visual art and abstract paintings supported him to sustain as an artist in Bengaluru for many years. However, it was only in the early 2000s when he realised that performance art was his true calling. “There are many kinds of performance art- like entertainment, humour and even satire. Each of these forms has its own reach, impact and seeks a particular kind of response from the audience it engages,” explains Paramesh, who has given over 20 performances in the recent years.

‘No Farmer, No Food

His most popular ‘No Farmer, No Food’ campaign was aimed at acquainting the urban audience about the recent agrarian crisis that has sounded a death knell for many farmers across the country.

Hailing from a farming background, I am aware of the harsh difficulties they face. From what I have observed, people are very much aware of the farmer crises in India, but nobody wants to give it a serious thought or help, he shares.
"No farmer, no food” campaign was aimed at acquainting the urban audience about the recent agrarian crisis

Paramesh caught the fancy of many Bangaloreans at last year’s ‘Chitrasanthe’, the city’s annual art fest, where he urged them to leave behind messages for distressed farmers on a bulky plough attached to his all-black costume. “That way, people are at least thinking of the problem at hand,” says the middle-aged artist whose realistic performance even forced Karnataka’s Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to take notice and pledge support.

“I have not limited the performances of this campaign to just Bengaluru. I have visited Chennai, Kochi, Mangaluru and many other places and everywhere people have been very receptive and sympathetic to agrarian crisis. But our purpose will be served only when the government decides to draft policies that benefit farmers in the long run,” Paramesh adds.

Protesting privatisation, the artistic way

Paramesh has also done various performances last year, protesting Karnataka government’s secret move to privatise Venkatappa Art Gallery (VAG), one of the oldest surviving museums in Bengaluru. “The VAG Forum united over 500 artists across the State who stood up against the selfish lobbying of the government to privatise the lone surviving public gallery in the city. In fact, it redefined ways of protesting by holding art marathons.”

Karnataka CM Siddaramaiha leaving behind a message and pledging his support to the campaign

“I staged a series of unique parodies as part of my VAG Forum performances, whether it be being dressed like a corrupt politician adorning a chappal garland or painting historical monuments on my body and surrounding it with a golden barbed wire (implying the curb on Karnataka’s rich heritage and culture). These performances helped me get due recognition among reputed art circles,” he adds.

Performing art to campaign multiple causes

Building on such appreciation, Paramesh continues to stage performances promoting a range of causes, from organ donation to freedom of expression. In a recent performance at Mantri Mall, people saw him play a dead corpse in a decorative coffin, the message sent out being- ‘Decorate other’s lives before you end up like a decorative piece in a box’. Yet another eye donation camp at Victoria Hospital nudged him to think differently on the same subject.

Each time the way you see, understand, think and express has to be different. Some performances even involve a fair amount of research before I finalise on the logistics, says Paramesh, explaining the intricacies of his craft.
Artist Parmesh staging a performance to highlight pitiful plight of the Belandur Lake

Bengaluru’s dying ponds and frequent water crisis also caught Paramesh’s attention and prodded him to stage a performance that aptly captured the pitiful plight of the burning Belandur Lake.

And I thought, what better way than depicting it through the famous thirsty crow tale. When an apathetic bird is making every effort to quench its thirst right next to freshwater lake, it should send out a clear message to our civic bodies.

In his most recent performance protesting the brutal murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, Paramesh experimented by showcasing the bent nib of a pen inferring to the scenario of limiting press freedom in India.

Ask him how it feels to spread social messages ‘one art at a time’, and he says, “My long struggle has taught me to remain humble and grounded. If my performance art helps change even one person’s mindset towards a public cause, then all my struggle and societal concern is worth it.”


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