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Reading between the Lines

Reading between the Lines

Vaishnavi Ramanathan provides a brief survey of artists from Chennai who use words and scripts in their works.

Velu Viswanadhan. Untitled. Oil on canvas.

Velu Viswanadhan. Untitled. Oil on canvas. 1963. Image courtesy of the artist. Collection of the artist.

A significant number of artists from Madras/Chennai incorporate words and scripts in their art1. One reason for this is the dominance of the line, an element that forms the basis of writing and art, in the Madras Art Movement. With artists wanting to ‘write their paintings’ in the Madras Art Movement, scripts manifested both directly and indirectly in artworks. Moreover, the script is an expression of language which has played a key role in shaping Chennai’s profile; in the 1950s, both Telugu and Tamil speakers claimed the city belonged to their respective states. The city is also associated with Dravidian ideology, which among other things, argues for the cause of Tamil. In its name too, Chennai bears the mark of linguistic and cultural politics. Given these factors, it would be relevant to examine the use of scripts and words by artists from Chennai against the broader context of language.