DakshinaChitra celebrates Madras Week with a unique exhibition titled ‘Madras Week Typeface’

Honouring the spirit of the city and its history, ahead of Madras Day, a unique exhibition titled Madras Week Typeface, showcases the art of Tamil typography
Exhibits at Madras Week Typeface
Exhibits at Madras Week Typeface

There are things money can buy; for everything else, there is Tamil. The sweetness of the language; the long ‘aas’ at the end of each sentence; the things one can’t do without if you are in Chennai (formerly Madras) — filter coffee, autos, dosas and ACs! Of course, the list is a lot longer than this, but you get the drift, right? To celebrate all of this and more — everything that Madras stood for and Chennai is — DakshinaChitra is exhibiting works by four talented artists. Titled Madras Week Typeface, it celebrates the spirit of Madras, ahead of Madras Day (August 22).

This exhibition is in connection with the Type 2023 competition, which was conducted as a part of DakshinaChitra’s Lang Fest 2023. Out of 30 entries, six were shortlisted. The participants were asked to design four words in Tamil — Kudalakesi, Coovum, Solleruzhavan, and Tamizhi. Four of the six shortlisted participants are displaying the designs submitted for the competition along with other designs which represent the theme ‘Madras’.

Fashion. Check
One look at Shibani Akshara’s digital art that is on display at the gallery will tell you that she’s on point with the theme. Infusing the art of hand-lettering into the beautiful Tamil script, her digital art representing Madras checks, the yellow auto, or the Chennai zero starting point, get a contemporary touch. Talking about the idea behind them, Shibani says, “I wanted to make use of all the things Madras is associated with. For instance, I made digital art that looks like a stamp, and in it you can see the Central Railway Station, the Lighthouse, and the auto. In another, I have written ‘Madras Checks’, where the first word is in Tamil and ‘checks’ is in English. We all know that the ‘checks’ fashion originated in Madras. The idea was to design the word ‘checks’ from check-like lines.”

The artist, who is an engineer by day and illustrator by night, explains another work of hers, saying, “The ‘O’ point of Chennai signifies the starting point, from where we measure the distance to any place.”

Degree coffee, anyone?
Prabhagaran’s Madras Memories is a celebration of Tamil typography as much as it is about nostalgia. It is a heartfelt tribute to the vibrant city of Madras. The essence of this design series lies in its ability to transport you back in time, highlighting the beauty of Tamil script. “Each piece in this collection blends the intricacy of Tamil calligraphy with comtemporary aesthetics, resulting in an arresting visual experience. The graceful curves and unique strokes of Tamil letters gracefully dance across the canvas, forming words and phrases that reflect the essence of Madras and its vibrant soul. Also, whatever image you see is what is written inside it, for instance, rose milk, degree coffee, manjapai, ” says the artist, who first started exploring Tamil typography by drawing shapes that resemble Tamil fonts, and his first experiment was with his own name. “I tried creating differnt fonts and shapes from my own name in Tamil, before moving on to explore more. I have been working on Tamil typography for 15 years now.” Prabhagaran also designs t-shirts with Tamil typography. Check out his Instagram handle and you will know what we are talking about. 

Disney princess with a Tamil twist
In Akshayaa Selvaraj’s work, one can find Disney princesses in Tamil avatars and names. So, Rapunzel becomes Radha in Annanagar Tower Park; Belle is Bharathi at Madras Literary Society; Moana is seen as Mogana at Marina Beach; and Cinderella is Chitra at Doveton Clock Tower. And in keeping with the theme of the exhibition, Akshayaa has designed the names in Tamil typography. “I did this to make the Disney princesses more relatable and personal. There’s another one — Moods of Marina, a Tamil typography inspired by the moments and moods of Marina, for which I have used all the elements of Marina beach.”

Semma Veyilu is an emotion
Surabi Senthil Kumar, who is a graphic designer and started typography and calligraphy as a hobby, later found her calling with Tamil typography. Though really tough, it fascinated her. “I used to do calligraphy in English, but then I am also someone who grew up watching Tamil book covers and reading Tamil books. So, I gradually moved to Tamil typography,” she says, adding, “It’s difficult, to say the least. While in English, we have many fonts for every mood, in Tamil, there is only a set of fonts which we regularly use. So, working with fonts in Tamil is a tedious process; add to that the fact that we have more letters in Tamil. Again, in English, we can fit every letter in a grid, but in Tamil, there are more varieties of sizes. In English, we have four grid lines; in Tamil, there are six! The fun part is there is no particular rule to be followed while doing Tamil typography; and I have been exploring it for the past two-and-a half years.”

Sharing about her works, which she has done on Procreate (graphics editor app), Surabi tells us, “Auto Varuma is self-explanatory. In Chennai, we don’t say ‘we should go there’; we say auto varuma. Shared auto, yellow in colour, is an icon of Chennai. Now there are Ola, Uber and Rapido;  but earlier, there was just auto!” The other work she shares about is Semma Veyilu, which Surabi says “is an emotion”. Chennai and heat are, of course, synonymous.

Rs 150 & Rs 175.
On till September 11, 10 am to 6 pm.
At Kadambari Gallery, DakshinaChitra.

Email: rupam@newindianexpress.com
Twitter: @rupsjain

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