- THE SCULPTOR
A faded name board on Anna Salai, adjacent to the Tamil Nadu
Agricultural University's Poultry Research Station, announces
the studio of Mani Nagappa, the famous sculptor whose works
adorn many institutions and places in the city. Even as one
enters the studio one is greeted by the sight of a row of statues
of famous leaders like Ambedkar and Nehru. The
genial septuagenarian who sparkles with humour and wit, takes time
off his work to speak about his father, his entry into sculpting
and about sculpting in today's context, in this exclusive interview
Where did you get your inspiration to become
course, my father was my inspiration. In my case from generation
to generation for over seven generations we have been in this fine
art of sculpting. For me sculpture rates high above all other
arts like music, dance, drama, literature and so on. I do
not know whether it a blessing in disguise to be in this profession.
But all I know is that I'm proud of it. The works that others
do will be forgotten, but mine will live on forever. Such
a unique talent in sculpting has been given to me by my forefathers.
Could you tell us more about your father Rao
Bahadur MS Nagappa?
My father Rao Bahadur MS Nagappa, had inherited this talent
from his ancestors. He was mostly encouraged by the British
and was a celebrated sculptor in the 1940's. He sculpted Maharajas,
Governors and Lords of England. He was very good at bringing out
the characters and likeness of the people he sculptured. Except
for Munroe's Statute, the rest of the statutes like Lord
Chelmsford, Lord Irvine etc, which are found all over
the city and other statutes have been made by my father. King
George V himself, had decorated my father when he did his statue,
which is now at the War Memorial. Lord Govindas who
had commissioned the statue presented it to the King on the occasion
of his Silver Jubilee. The photograph of the finished statute
of Kind George was sent to England and my father got a personal
hand-written reply from the King himself. The letter read
" I have been posing to get my likeness from a local artist with
my personal sitting which has not been very successful, whereas
you have brought an immense likeness with just my photograph and
that too within such a short time. So, we decorate you with
the title 'Rao Bahadur'.
The king also appointed our studio and a coat of arms was given
to our studio to show this, the government would consult us on anything
to do with sculpture, as the king had appointed our studio.
My father made many statues in marble and bronze. He was the
only sculptor to work with marble during his time and was very good
at bringing the features out.
What made you to take up sculpting as you
were more interested in automobiles?
worked 14 years with my father. It was he who taught me the
basics. My father died at the age of 52, at that time I was
18. My other brothers were not as good at sculpting as I was.
I seemed to be blessed with the talent. But I was more interested
in engineering and I liked sports cars in particular. In fact,
I assembled a car of my own. But since the others were not
so good and I seemed to have this special gift, I was forced to
take up my father's profession.
Is there any interesting incident that you
can recall when you first began sculpting?
One day an order for the statue of Dr Lakshmi Swami Mudaliar,
Vice Chancellor of University of Madras was made.
This was after my father's death and we had made the studio into
a company. My brothers tried to make a statue of him, but
they couldn't get it approved. The order was almost on the
verge of being cancelled. At that time I was in the film industry,
choreographing and directing with the famous actor Ranjan.
My mother forced me to take up the task of doing the statue, saying
that the company was sinking. Then I volunteered myself saying
that I would get the statue approved on the one condition that I
would be paid Rs 2000/-. I had a personal sitting of Dr. Lakshmi
Swami Mudaliar. Then a group of committee members, which included
the then Mayor of Madras came and saw the statue and approved
it. That was how I started. This encouraged me to make
money. The moment I got the money I went and bought a Jaguar
and was gallivanting around town with my friends. That was
What are the materials that you usually use?
I make statues mostly using bronze, ferro concrete and marble.
Marble can be used only for certain poses. To do a statue
in a standing pose in marble is very difficult, as it would not
support the weight of the head and the shoulders. I select
the material according to the pose and also the budget. Bronze
is chosen again depending on the pose, while ferro concrete is chosen
for a cheaper budget. The result will be the same.
As far as sculpting is concerned, how do you
see it today's context?
is very important for recording historical facts, but for us sculptors
there is no history. For me sculpture is above all the five
arts, since it is three-dimensional. As one can tell the age
and time during which a particular sculpture is was made.
In those days, the only media to preserve memories was sculpture,
right from the 'stone age' to the 'metal age'. Stone carvings
made centuries ago help us find out about the art and lifestyle
in those ages. And if you were to dig and find a bronze statue,
you can find out the era and style in which it was made. So
many things can be found out with sculptures. But if you to find
carved poetry or language it would be very difficult decipher what
Today, most of the young artists look at art as something to earn
money with - 'less effort more money'. In sculpture, the credit
goes to the man who is the source of inspiration. When I say
inspiration, it is not only in the artistic sense but also in the
financial or motivational sense. Michael Angelo would
not be anywhere if it were not for the Pope, who had commissioned
him to do his various works. So patrons are very important
for artists like us. For centuries, this profession
was patronised by kings who supported artists like us, in the same
way, the Government of today should support artists like us, failing
which we would fade into oblivion.
In another sense today, sculpting has become cheap. If there
is any sculpting to be done, the government is calling for tenders.
In sculpting, you should first understand who is who? This
is not like building a bridge. These are statues that decorate
the city. Today these are tourist attractions and tomorrow
they will be historical reminders of today's world to the future
generation and will be proof of our culture. If you go to
the Vatican City in Rome and you see the works of Michael Angelo
and other old masters, whether you are a Hindu or a Muslim, you
would simply admire them. Today those works are a major tourist
attraction and generate enormous amount of income for that tiny
In Tamil Nadu, except for Mahabalipuram and some places
like the Madurai Meenakshi Temple, there is nothing much
to talk about. Even in the new millennium, we should give
importance to Indian workmanship and culture. The originality
of thinking that goes with the our culture is most important.
Take the case of the 'Valluvar' statue that has been erected.
They consulted with me and said that they wanted a statue of Valluvar,
a person who deserved to be honoured. I told them that I saw
Valluvar as a 'cartoon poet'. With just two lines, his couplets
held such a lot of meaning that books could be written on just one
of them. In the same way, the greatest tribute would be to
honour him with that characteristic. When they told that they
wanted a huge statue, I said that we should not try to copy foreigners
who go by size but should do something different. We have
our own originality.
Speaking about this I recall an incident, which shows the uniqueness
of us Indians and the originality of thinking. My father had just
erected a statue of the Maharaja of Travancore in 1936, in
marble. My father received a present shortly after that from
Travancore. It contained a small scent bottle and a magnifying
lens along with a letter in Malayalam. We gave this letter
to our cook who could read Malayalam, and it was mentioned in the
letter that the tip of the glass rod that was part of the scent
bottle was to be seen through the magnifying glass. And when
we did that, what do you think we saw - my father's name was inscribed
on it and even had a few lines of poetry on it, all in Malayalam.
That, is originality of thinking. That is what sculptors
should give prime importance to.
|- Joseph Pradeep Raj R
Photographs : V Ganesan