In her whole 77 years of life so far, Valsala Narayanan has never told anyone that she is an artist. On Thursday, when her art exhibition featuring 60 works opened at the Lalithakala Akademi Art Gallery, Thrissur, it would be a revelation for many who know her. What is surprising is that this self-taught artist has been working on something she invented all by herself — powdered fabric works.
“I have been doing this in secret. Only my close family and the tailor who supplied the raw materials knew about it,” says Valsala. By raw materials, she means the cloth shreds which would otherwise lie in the waste bin or turn into ashes. As a token of gratitude, she has gifted one of her works to the tailor.
Asked how she invented fabric powder, she narrates a story. “I was young, newly-married, and had just moved to Kolkata with my husband Sankaranarayanan, who worked in a manufacturing company there. When he left for work, I had nothing much to do. One day, I was sitting idly playing with the scissors when I cut a piece of cloth and started shredding it to minute parts. When it turned into powder, I stuck it onto a paper using glue.
Slowly, it became by hobby.” What began as a pastime activity in her 20s grew into a passion, which she continued even after moving back to Perumanna in Cherpulassery, where she raised her three children, grandchildren and now, great grandkids.
“Powdering fabric requires great patience as it takes hours to turn it into dust. But I have plenty of time after everyone at home leaves for work and school. I enjoy creating powdered fabric works and it’s a joy to watch them shaping up,” says Valsala. Ask about her favourite from the lot, she laughs. “Every work is a favourite, but I used to do it for myself. I hadn’t thought that these are worth sharing with people.” Until that one day she visited Guruvayur Sreekrishna Temple. At the temple, she saw an artwork – a model of the temple made using sticker bindis, an offering by a devotee. Surprised, she enquired about it with the temple authorities and told them that she too had been creating art works.
Spotting her enthusiasm, Valsala’s family coerced her into agreeing to show the world her hidden talent. When their relative Vinod Kanneri, a lecturer at Fine Arts College, knew about it, he talked with Akademi authorities and helped organise the exhibition. Her art works from 44 years on display at the gallery depict flora, fauna, nature and divine figures. And it’s not all about powdered fabric. “Anything that can be powdered can be used for the work,” says Valsala, whose art ingredients include coffee, saw dust and glitter powder.
Greeting the visitors at the gallery, a beaming Valsala shares with them not just her artistic talent, but a contagious vigour and optimism that if one has the will and passion, nothing comes in their path to success and fame....