A contemporary sculptor and painter, Kanayi Kunhiraman is known for his large-scale outdoor sculptures and installations across Kerala and India.
Kunhiraman was born in Kasaragod, Kerala, and received a diploma in sculpture from the Government College of Fine Arts, Chennai, in 1960. He was awarded a cultural scholarship from the government of India to continue his studies in sculpture at the college (1962–64), where he was mentored by KCS Paniker. In 1965, he was awarded the Commonwealth Scholarship, which allowed him to study sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, where he was guided by English sculptor Reginald Butler. While here, he also met and learned from artists such as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo. In 1976, he became head of the department of sculpture at the College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram, and later became the principal of the institution. Kunhiraman was also Chairman of the State Lalit Kala Akademi, Kerala, in 1978 and 2001.
Kuhiraman’s sculptures have been categorised as environmental sculpture and are usually placed in public spaces, motivated by his belief in removing art from the museum to more accessible spaces. His idols, statues and sculptures are often based on the traditions of his native town, such as theyyam, as well as the figure of the Mother Goddess. Some of his popular outdoor sculptures include Nandi (1969), Thiruvananthapuram; Yakshi (1969), Malampuzha, Palakkad; Fertility (1971), Ernakulam; Mukkola Perumal (1973), Kochi; Sagarakanya (1992), Thiruvananthapuram; and Relaxation (1995), Thiruvananthapuram. A few of his sculptures featuring the female nude, especially Yakshi, triggered considerable agitation and controversy in Kerala. In addition to his conceptual sculptures, Kunhiraman has created numerous bronze statues of personalities such as Subhas Chandra Bose (1983), Rabindranath Tagore (1991), Chithira Thirunal (1999) and Vikram Sarabhai (2002). He has also created reliefs on the Mullakkal temple in Alappuzha, Kerala (1976). He designed the statues for several Kerala state awards.
Kunhiraman’s works have been shown in exhibitions across India and abroad, including at the Lalit Kala Akademi (1971, 1975) and the Nanappa Art Gallery, Ernakulam (2019). His works are also held in public and private collections, including the Madras Lalit Kala Akademi; the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He received the inaugural Raja Ravi Varma Puraskaram from the Government of Kerala (2005), the Thikkurissy Award (2006), the Akshara Award (2010) and the inaugural MS Nanjunda Rao National Award of Art from the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath (2018).
At the time of writing, Kunhiraman lives and works in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.
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