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Dolls that jump out of frames- The New Indian Express

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Express News Service

CHENNAI: What do Golu dolls and lithographic prints have in common? A lot, apparently. Though the art of making terracotta dolls for Navratri — the word ‘golu’ is Telugu for ‘display’ — precedes perhaps the invention of the printing press, the proliferation of lithographic prints in the 19th century reinvigorated new life into the art form, providing doll makers with a steady stream of new ideas.

Tapping into this give-and-take between the two art forms is “Uruvakkam” an exhibition of antique Golu dolls and lithographic prints at Kadambari hall in Dakshinachitra Heritage Museum.


CHENNAI: What do Golu dolls and lithographic prints have in common? A lot, apparently. Though the art of making terracotta dolls for Navratri — the word ‘golu’ is Telugu for ‘display’ — precedes perhaps the invention of the printing press, the proliferation of lithographic prints in the 19th century reinvigorated new life into the art form, providing doll makers with a steady stream of new ideas.

Tapping into this give-and-take between the two art forms is “Uruvakkam” an exhibition of antique Golu dolls and lithographic prints at Kadambari hall in Dakshinachitra Heritage Museum.

Dolls at the Museum range from
historical icons to popular artCurated by Dingdi Gangte and Indumathi Mohan, who is also a librarian and archivist at the Museum, the show, which opened on September 3, features Golu dolls placed against the lithographic prints on which they were based.

“The doll makers were real geniuses,” remarks Dingdi. “They were essentially drawing inspiration from what was happening around them, absorbing everything and pouring it out into their art. This exhibition is also a display of their exceptional skill in mimicking the contents of a two-dimensional image.”

The man who started it

One of the pioneers of lithographic printing in India, Raja Ravi Varma used the medium to popularise his work and flooded the market with prints depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. Soon the lithograph became a popular medium for cinema posters and advertising, and they all fed into the mind of the doll maker who had to constantly come up with newer ideas for every Navratri season.

And so the show is curated across several segments — religious imagery, popular art and nationalistic, not to mention a special section devoted to Ravi Varma, given his influence on lithographic art in India. The Ravi Varma section features striking recreations of the famous ‘Hamsa Damayanti’ alongside other mythological depictions. Then there were the gods from the Hindu pantheon, from Ganesha to Shiva and Parvati and Krishna teasing the gopis.

From religion to pop culture

“At a time when India was fighting for independence from the British, posters depicting nationalist heroes were widely sought after, and so you have prints of figures like Jhansi Rani, MK Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose. Doll makers of the time were quick to respond to changing trends in public taste, and so you have dolls that closely mimic these prints,” says Indumathi.But it wasn’t just national leaders whose figurines were sought after. Popular film stars of the time, whose faces graced cinema posters, also became collectables in the shape of figurines.

Baby Saroja, one of the popular child stars of the time, and MK Thyagaraja Bhagavatar, one of the popular singing stars of the time, also make an appearance. Shifting one’s gaze back and forth between the print and the Golu doll, it’s hard not to be awed by the remarkable skill with which doll makers of the time, who sadly remain anonymous, fashioned three-dimensional figurines out of two-dimensional images.

Presentation & performance

The coming Saturday will see two other events alongside the show. “An Old Captivity – The Art of Golu” will be an audio-visual presentation by Rupa Gopal at the Seminar Hall, and it will be followed by “Every Doll is a Story”, a storytelling session by Vikram Sridhar.
Uruvakkam is on till September 25, and a special walk will also be held of the exhibition on September 17. For details, contact Indumathi Mohan at 9841421149.

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