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Freaks and geeks: Everyone finds a place in Siji Krishnan's family portraits

Circus Family, 2016, watercolour on rice paper, 71 x 151 cm / 27.9 x 59.4 in

Siji Krishnan's concept of family goes beyond the nuclear, or a shared last name.

In The Family Portrait, Krishnan explores the family get-togethers of her childhood from Kerala, capturing generations within a single frame. Drawn with watercolours on rice paper, each family portrait is inspired by Mavelikkara in Kerala's Alappuzha district, where Krishnan drew imaginary worlds in her head while listening to her grandmother's stories.

"As a person who was born and brought up in the countryside, the imageries of village life were deeply embedded inside me," said Krishnan. "Memories of my early life is filled with smells of village life and fragrance of flowers. When the deepest layer of my mind resurfaced, they gave way to a wide range of images, like children playing under a house made of coconut leaves. And even though these images are culture-specific, I believe they share a universal pattern."

Krishnan believes that the human race is bound by a web of interdependence. "There is no existence for the individual outside the pattern of relationship, a pattern that connects everything," she said.

Every image is made up of multiple individual portraits, each painstakingly drawn and coloured by Krishnan. But squeezed together in a family portrait, their individual details merge. Looking at the group, it is hard to tell where one person begins and the other ends – exactly like a family.

Krishnan has used rice paper for her art, for nearly a decade. She layers sheets of rice paper of different textures to build a thickness that can absorb numerous coats of paint, likening the brittle surface obtained by the process to that of "stretched skin or dried leaves".

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