Artist Anthoni Guruz talks about his latest works for the Vaanam Art Festival, using art as a tool t

A female spotted cuckoo is perched on a man’s shoulder. The two look into each other’s eyes. The spots on the cuckoo’s skin blend into the man’s body, and eventually into his soul. The depth of Anthoni Guruz’s thought, which stems from his personal experience, manifests in this meaningful work and speaks to you on so many levels.

Telling the story behind it, the Chennai-based artist shares, “It was an incident from when I was in college. One day, when I was with a group of friends, a younger girl came to see me and asked me if I belonged to the same caste as her; it is Dalit. I always respond boldly to people on any subject, but this time I kept my mouth shut.

It can be fear of being judged by people around me or difficulty accepting my inner feelings. This instance has stuck with me until now and bothers me. The cuckoo clock is her and the man is me. She forwarded the question to me. This was translated into a painting on canvas.

Moments and memories

It was one of his last three artworks exhibited at the recently concluded Vaanam Art Festival art exhibition titled “The Blue of Distance: Dalit Arts and Aesthetics” in Ambedkar Manimandapam. Opportunity has been a life changing experience with many takeaways for Anthoni. “The reviews of my works were encouraging. I was also able to network with over 20 like-minded artists. We exchanged ideas, observed different working styles and understood each other’s school of thought,” he notes.

Shedding light on his two other works of art presented at the festival, he explains: “One of the paintings reflects the personality of my grandfather. A retired military man, he came across as a stern person to everyone, but he empowered many young people and always stressed the importance of education. I portrayed it as a cactus, a specific type that grows in our village. It’s thorny on the outside, wobbles with reserved water in the wind. Another is about my childhood in my mother’s home town of Mugaiyur in Villupuram. Shady trees, neighborhood landmarks, the local train… I incorporated several small elements onto a shirt-like canvas as my first shirt was sewn in this village. Director Pa Ranjith was keen to buy it but I sold it to another supporter who took the time to acknowledge my efforts. I will make him a similar one.

Anthoni’s works reflect memories and moments of his life. It is not he who paints between four walls, but someone who is always standing; looking for stories that later come to life through colors and sketches. “Usually I don’t let caste interfere with my work. But, to tell the stories of my ancestors, I don’t hesitate to accept my identity as a Dalit”, emphasizes Anthoni, who deals with multiple media. “I am adaptable with work. My priority is to transfer my feelings into the medium. Each visual has a message,” he adds.

journey of self-discovery

Anthoni holds an MPhil from the Government College of Fine Arts. One of his projects that became the talk of the town in 2020 was his master’s thesis in visual communication. The artist embarked on a 300 km journey on foot from Chennai to Nagapattinam via the East Coast Road. The fruit of his labor was an artistic series of monochrome drawings that captured the many sounds, sights and smells he traced throughout the journey. “I have always had a thirst for academics.

Through this, I wanted to bring out a pictorial thesis, the opposite of wordy and conventional theses. Being able to imagine ordinary people and their lives was a blessing. The trip shaped my vision of art and helped me understand myself better. Now Tara Books – Publishers wants to make my thesis a travelogue about art,” says Anthoni, who exhibited the series of art he drew as part of his thesis at Dr J Jayalalithaa Music and Fine Arts University and at Loyola College, Chennai before the pandemic.

With a decade-long career, the graphic artist currently commutes between Pondicherry and Chennai for work. He takes on freelance graphic design assignments for publications and other commissioned projects. “Working in commercial enterprises is tedious and time-consuming. I prefer to work with children. When the holidays come, I run summer camps,” says Anthoni, who is working on organizing another painting exhibition.

He is also busy drawing characters in a graphic novel of Waiting for a Visa, an autobiographical story by BR Ambedkar. “I have more untold stories worth sharing with the world. I’m telling it my way,” he concludes.

For more details, visit Instagram @Guruz_kamaliyel, Facebook @Guruz Kamaliyel, or call: +918056056969.

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Reggie S. Williams