US-born Trish Taylor Ponappa’s drawings touches the heart of Kodagu
P.T. Bopanna, web editor of this portal writes: During my last visit to Madikeri in Kodagu to promote my books, I visited ‘Nambikay’ store run by an NGO where my books are kept for sale. I was drawn to an impressive set of drawings depicting the Kodagu people and life. I took down the e-mail ID of the artist, Trish Taylor Ponappa (in picture above), to congratulate her on her wonderful work. As usual, laziness, combined with other routine preoccupations, came in the way of writing a word of praise for the artist. Out of the blue, a cousin of mine from the UK, sent me an interview of Trish done by my friend Kishor Cariappa who runs a website www.kodagucommunity.com. Reproduced below is the e-mail interview conducted by the Oman-based Cariappa.
Cariappa: Can you give us a brief background about yourself, your works, and your association with Kodagu/Kodavas?
Trish: I grew up in the U.S., in the state of Idaho, in a rural environment. I obtained my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Idaho, and I worked as a graphic artist for many years before coming to India. I met my husband, Dr. Tilak Ponappa (Kuppanda) in the U.S. where he was studying and then working as a scientist. He knew that eventually he would have to come back to Kodagu to fulfill his familial obligations as the only son. After much consideration and deliberation, we decided to relocate to Kodagu in 1999.
Cariappa: What is the motivation for you to document Kodava lifestyle and people in the form of drawings?
Trish: For several years after coming here, I really didn’t do much with my artwork; just an occasional volunteer project now and then. For me, I have to be in the right frame of mind for the artwork to turn out successfully. After initially coming here, I had a lot of adjustment issues that I had to work through; so when I did artwork at that time, it often didn’t turn out as I had hoped and I would become very frustrated. But, after a time, I started doing some graphite pencil drawings of the native crop plants and turned them into prints and note cards.
Some friends and relatives were opening a resort and I did a little brainstorming with them as to the artwork they would require, and they wanted art that highlighted Kodava culture. So I started doing some drawings relating to that. As things go here, the building kept getting delayed, so I started making prints and cards of the drawings that I had done. I hooked up with ‘Nambikay’ in Madikeri and people started to show an interest in them. My goal was to make them simple and affordable.
Cariappa: Do you come up with new drawings every now and then?
Trish: Yes, I try to do new drawings and paintings on a regular basis. But that is also dependent on my time, as I do my own framing (so when I get a lot of orders for prints, it tends to cut into my time for producing new works). Lately, the new pieces I have done are more oriented to the natural aspects of Kodagu, but I have ideas for more cultural pieces as well.
Cariappa: Are you based in Kodagu?
Trish: Yes. My husband and I live in Konankatte, which is a small village located near Balele. We live on a coffee estate so we are both busy with all that entails, and we have a large herd of pets including 15 dogs (most of those are adopted strays and their offspring that we were not able to find homes for), 9 cats, 3 geese, and 8 chickens. I love nature and animals (obviously) and since Kodagu is so rich in biodiversity, it offers an endless array of subject matter for my work.
Cariappa: What are your impressions about culture and tradition of Kodavas?
Trish: It is a rich heritage where in times past, the customs and rituals were based on necessity, and survival. Today, these same practices are often symbolic. But in performing them, the past is remembered and the traditions are kept alive. The main social events of the community are centered around the cycle of life: weddings, funerals and naming ceremonies. It is a celebration but also a chance to meet friends and relatives and catch up on what has been happening in each other’s lives.
Cariappa: How do you think the next generation can be made aware of the rich heritage of their ancestors in Kodagu?
As the world becomes smaller and ways of life become more similar, I think it is really important to keep one’s cultural heritage alive because it is the differences that make people interesting. There have been so many books published now by Kodava authors about Kodagu that reading those books should be encouraged within families. Also, participation in the community gatherings such as Puthari. My husband has fond memories of viewing the Puthari dances in Patti Bane near Bittangala. We attended several times, as spectators, and it sets a scene of the past and future coming together. The regal Kodavas in their traditional attire, performing the Kol and Pariya Kali in the glow of the afternoon sunlight is truly picturesque. Unfortunately, I think many of these events are not as well attended as they used to be.
Editor’s Note: Due to technical constraints, it is not possible to display the works of Trish in these columns. The prints of her drawings are for sale at Nambikay Store, Madikeri.
It is of interest to note that Kodagu has a home grown artist of great stature. Dr S.V. Narasimhan, a medical practitioner based at Virajpet, draws wildlife cards of birds in Kodagu and sends it across to people to raise environmental awareness. Dr Narasimhan is the author of the book “Feathered jewels of Coorg’ brought out by the Coorg Wildlife Society.