RED CROWN GREEN PARROT IS THE ART WALK THROUGH MATTANCHERRY WHICH DEALS WITH THE FORGOTTEN CULTURAL HERITAGE OF THE MALABAR JEWISH COMMUNITY FROM THE VIEWPOINT OF THE ARTISTS MEYDAD ELIYAHU AND THOUFEEK ZAKRIYA.
Red Crown Green Parrot is a public project, a collaboration created by artists, researchers Meydad Eliyahu and Thoufeek Zakriya and curated by Tanya Abraham of the Kashi Art Gallery as a collateral project at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018.
The project created by these artists, working for the preservation of the memory of Kerala Jews, is created and performed in the historic Jewish urban area of Mattancherry, Kochi, India, comprises a series of paintings and calligraphic wall works in in Malayalam, English and Hebrew that constitute interventions in the public sphere. The project is a walking route through the neighborhood that the Jews once lived in. It deals with the vanished and forgotten cultural heritage of the Malabar Jewish community from the personal viewpoint of the artists, a descendant of Malabar Jews, born in Israel and based in Jerusalem (Eliyahu) and a Muslim, born and raised in Kochi, now based in Dubai (Zakriya).
The presence of the Malabar Jews has vanished almost entirely from the physical space and collective memory in Mattancherry. The absence is a result of the massive immigration of the entire community to Israel since the 1950s, as well as other sociocultural factors. In addition, most of the academic research and documentation of the Jews of Kerala also left out their chapter in history.
“The parrot, reminiscent of the raconteur parrot of Ezhuthachan, the father of Malayalam language, also alludes to collective migration. The red crown is in reference to the majestic position the community once enjoyed in society.”
Thoufeek Zakriya, The Hindu
Red Crown Green Parrot takes a step further in its public, democratic appearance, as it is performed by the artists in the public sphere: it belongs to the public and interacts with the public. The project originated from a very poetic and personal perspective and will deal with the narrative of immigration and the loss of the unique multicultural dialogue that characterized Mattancherry in the past.
During the two weeks residency in Kochi, based on much longer period of working together, the artists created the paintings and calligraphy in a performative action on site in Mattancherry. Relating to the paintings and calligraphy as ritual and performance, the artists see the process and ways of developing the work as important as the result.
The name of the project draws inspiration from the motifs of the crown and the parrot which frequently appear in the cultural expressions of the Jews of Malabar, such as women’s folksongs, illuminated Ketubot - Jewish marriage contracts, and synagogue decorations. Although these motifs are widespread, they remain enigmatic, with an ongoing discussion of what they symbolize and in what context. The authors hope that the project will shed some light on these motifs as well as on other rich cultural expressions of the Jews of Malabar and their descendants. The images and texts painted on the streets are inspired by various sources:, including talks with Jewish former residents now residing in Israel and current residents of the project location, Jewish women’s folksongs, contemporary poetry, and an historical visual index collected over the last three years.
Hopefully, the project will promote in some way a change in the situation of two ancient and abandoned Malabari synagogues in Jew Town - the Kadavumbagum and Tekkumbagum synagogues, which stood on Jew Street for hundreds of years, yet today lack any proper indications or plaques.
“It is sensitive, considering that I’m an Israeli Jew and he’s a Muslim working in the Middle East, but what we are trying is a cultural dialogue and not exactly a religious one. If the culture is dying today, that’s because people are closed for a dialogue.”
Meydad Eliyahu, The Hindu
Thus, the project calls for change in the current situation of that part of Jew Town and for the preservation and documentation of what remains, to show future generations. The outcome of the project is yet to be determined, since it involves the Kochi communities and the Jewish-Kerala community in Israel, as well as many unknown aspects that tend to arise when working in the public space. Nevertheless, we do hope that the project will turn the spotlight on this culturally rich and forgotten chapter in Mattancherry's layered history which is still meaningful in the lives of so many people and communities.
Tanya is a curator at Kashi Art Gallery and author of the book Fort Kochi, History. Working on Jewish history with the artists is, to her, the bringing alive of a past closely attached to the fabric of Kochi’s society.
Meydad is an artist, researcher and curator who lives and works in Jerusalem. Born in a community of Kerala Cochin Jews, he has been researching the history of his family since childhood.
Chef de Calligraphy! Indian Muslim who does calligraphy in Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Syrian, Samaritan and English. A brilliant amateur researcher and historian, who cooks in the luxury restaurants in Dubai!
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