Post the 2018 floods, Keralites see fishermen as superheroes without a cape. When the floods unpredictably hit the state, they didn’t hesitate to pull out their boats and rush to save lives. However, not many are aware of their hard lives. British artist Susan Beaulah’s paintings give a detailed account of their fast-changing lives. Her works emphasise on the marine phenomenon, Chakara, wherein fish converge in abundance in organically formed mudbanks. She is perhaps the first artist to paint Kerala’s fishers and Chakara exclusively.
Having spent around a decade observing the fisherfolk in the coastal areas of Kerala, she knows a thing or two about them. She has captured their lives, mostly on the spot, on her canvas. The idea of painting fisherfolk hit Beaulah in 1990 during a residency in Kerala following her first painting trip to Rajasthan. “My idea was to paint women working in the fields, but then I saw a boat on the beach and was immediately captivated by its shape and elegance of line. It awoke in me a feeling of ancient times and of the Vikings invading the east coast of England over a 1000 years ago, using boats of remarkably similar design to those I was watching on this modern-day Kerala coast,” recalls Beaulah.
The vivid colours of lungis against the neutral colour of sand and the harmony of people working on the beaches and in the fields, at one with the landscape, caught her attention. “In the UK, figures in the landscape are of no interest to me as they appear to just pass through, detached and without that meaningful connection. I believe that a simple life, imbued with a sense of belonging is more real, has more integrity and is more beautiful to look at than a more commercially developed world.”