Sunday September 30, 2012
By REVATHI MURUGAPPAN
The common chilli continues to inspire an artist, who has moved from paintings to sculptures to home accessories.
CHILLIES are simple yet profound. They’re so tiny and you may not notice them, but they have the power to consume everybody. They’re capable of making something ordinary extraordinary,” says Kumari Nahappan, whose art is wrapped around that little vegetable.
Whenever the artist visits a new country, she makes it a point to stop at the local market to look for chillies. However, “I don’t eat them because I love them too much,” she says.
This love is obvious in her paintings and sculptures of chillies. Now, it has “flowed” into a range of home accessories, which sit enticingly in a new concept space at G Tower Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. This is the same swanky hotel where her 5m bronze sculpture, entitled Wild Chilli Couple, stands tall in the lobby.
The Chilli Boutique is the brainchild of Kumari and her son, Ravi Nahappan, who share a passion for all things beautiful and elegant.
Using his engineering background and an eye for design, Ravi has created functional, lifestyle products with an artistic flair, which now share space with his mother’s creations.
“The boutique was born out of conversations with my mother when I first saw her chilli artworks,” says Ravi, 31. “I started working with materials to translate her designs into functional products and over the last 18 months, we’ve been defining the shape of the boutique.”
Kumari interjects: “Actually the idea started when I created the ring of infinity (a napkin ring) to raise funds for charity four years ago. It generated a lot of interest and people started asking for more. I was not so comfortable doing this because I was more interested in serious art works, but I felt someone else could do it. Then Ravi stepped in to explore the possibilities.”
“My mother is involved in the creative direction but there are different manufacturers who make the products,” adds Ravi.
The boutique’s range of home and lifestyle accents blends simple organic forms with different materials, embodying artistic values with contemporary craftsmanship. Among the items are chinaware, greetings cards, napkin rings, silk table mats, table runners, jewellery and digitalised prints - all with a hint of fiery, multi-hued chillies.
“This is a new dimension of my work and the evolution of over two decades of art. Each piece has a story and its own symbolism,” Kumari says.
In a career spanning 22 years, she has moved from acrylic and abstract paintings to installations and bronze sculptures. The sculptures consume most of her time and in between, she tries to paint. The boutique caries a limited selection of paintings; anyone interested in seeing more of Kumari’s works will have to head to her gallery in Singapore.
“Casting the sculptures, holding exhibitions and travelling take up a lot of my time so I don’t paint as much. I need 120% silence to paint,” adds Malaysian-born Kumari, now based in Singapore.
She received the United Overseas Bank Painting of the Year award in 1998, and the Philip Morris Group Asean Art Award. Kumari is also the first woman and foreigner to be awarded the Ksatria Seni Award in 2004 by Museum Rudana in Ubud, Bali. Last year, she was among the nominees for Artist of the Year at the Shanghai Art Fair 2011, for her Happy Tango chilli.
Kumari describes her art as a ritual and, as such, her creations entail artistic ritual. She excels in installations which offer the viewer a sensual, spiritual experience, combined with a feeling of inner peace.
“When I was working on my post-graduate research, I started using Hindu rituals and offerings to show time. I used turmeric powder, chillies, seeds and pods. I found chillies held a sense of mystery and I was driven by it. The chillies have kept evolving since. I never knew it was going to dance, which is a celebration!” says the 59-year-old artist.
Simple yet profound themes such as time and energy form the basis of her works. The cyclical nature of time, and infinity, are often reflected in their layout and her installations often comprise simple elements put together with potential to extend beyond the confines of any space.
As Kumari describes it, “I see my works as a continuum. They build and layer from one show to the next.”
She draws inspiration from her daily moods, feelings and everyday life. Her chillies come in all shapes, colours and sizes. The slender ones have a touch of grace while the obese ones exude a cheeky yet innocent twist. Some are connected at the stem while others, at the bottom. Her latest collection is entitled Heatwave, which shows a fan chilli, a spiralling chilli – “it’s running away because it doesn’t want to be eaten” – and the revival chilli.
“Whether the heat is inside or outside, it’s up to the viewer to interpret,” the artist adds with a twinkle in her eye.
Products at the boutique are painstakingly created. For example, the “imperfect” finish of a hand-made fine bone china platter (inspired by her Asana chilli sculpture) reflects the unique creation process. Similarly, the jewellery collection comprises earrings of different shaped chillies in black, rhodium-plated sterling silver or pink, gold-plated sterling silver.
“Sometimes I may only make one sculpture, but if it’s a small piece, I may do additions. It’s boring to keep doing the same thing again,” Kumari says.