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The curious case of Chennai’s anonymous artist

The curious case of Chennai’s anonymous artist

“Since I am anonymous, the background will seem very vague,” Lotuzhead says, cutting short all nosy questions that demand his identity.

The Chennai-based artist who has been working under the name Lotuzhead since 2015, zealously keeps his identity under wraps, even going to the extent of participating in gigs, which combine music with live painting, with a mask over his face. “I wouldn’t say responses have been particularly positive all the time but I have found people talking about me and that sometimes refutes the point of being anonymous,” he says.

Lotuzhead, who has a professional degree in Fine Arts, started his journey with the Sunburn Festival in Goa in 2015. He recently participated in the One People Festival in Mahabalipuram in September this year as art director for the event, which brought together artists from across genres under a single roof.

How you see it

“I like to take up a space and put in my perspective as creatively as possible,” he says, discussing how he brought together eight artists to set up installations and conduct live painting sessions at the festival. He adds that his background in Fine Arts makes it easier for him to work with different media.

Explaining his street moniker, he says, “The lotus is a spiritual symbol in Hinduism. What intrigued me the most is how a lotus bud is connotative of your blinded vision, which spreads out to give you petals; varied perspectives.”

The artist says he believes that this concept transcends all religions or no religion at all. “I like being a platform that can connect different people from different backgrounds.” His work often incorporates the symbol of a lotus as the main motif while making it surrealistic — based on a dream-like state but still rooted in reality.

“Under this name, the idea may remain the same but artists may differ. Other artists can base their work on this idea and take it forward. I know it sounds like I am starting a cult, but that’s not the case,” he laughs.

While collaborating with T3k, a graffiti group in the city, he says he realised that graffiti has a certain hierarchy and follows a set of rules. “The first rule of graffiti is that it isn’t graffiti if it isn’t vandalism. So most of the graffiti artists prefer being under the veil of a name or a symbol. This is what triggered me to go anonymous,” he says. He adds that in the field of art, once an artist gains momentum, people tend to give more importance to the artist than the work. “According to me, my art should do the talking, not me.”

Are there practical problems in being anonymous? “It’s quite hard, because a lot of places require you to provide some details, and that’s a challenge I face all the time,” says Lotuzhead, adding that the fact he wasn’t anonymous until 2015 makes it all the more difficult. “In my first year, I had to block a lot of photographs on social media and go into a private zone. You have to be at it continuously. I remember once during a gig, the security saw me moving around in a mask. He wasn’t informed. We got into a little bit of a tussle then.

A bit of mystery

Most people are genuinely curious and also amused with his masked image. But there have also been instances where his masks (sometimes scarves or paper bags, even) have attracted negative reactions. “People, in India at least, are still new to the concept of a vigilante artist. They are often very sceptical or apprehensive about what is behind the mask” he says.

Lotuzhead specialises in combining music with live painting. No wonder then, he refers to his performances as gigs. According to him, live painting is an act that the city is still warming up to. However, painting impromptu, with the accompaniment of music has started gaining traction. “There is a lot of showmanship involved in live painting. The viewers should be captivated throughout the entire performance. Most of the time, I don’t plan on what I will be painting. Based on the music and the crowd, the work evolves,” he says, adding that he throws in colours and elements as the situation demands, even going so far as to set his work on fire.

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