A portrait of Theyyam made with confections

Kerala-based artist ‘Da Vinci’ Suresh’s 24-foot-tall ‘theyyam’-inspired portrait, made with cookies and other sweets, was on show at a bakery in Kannur

It took a little over 25,000 biscuits to make a 24-foot tall portrait of the theyyam. Artist ‘Da Vinci’ Suresh, who has been on a mission to create 100 portraits using non-traditional art material, created the artwork for Bake Story Live Bakery in Kannur. This is his 79th portrait.

After 15 hours of work that included putting together tables, drawing, sorting and stacking cookies, Suresh completed the portrait, which captures the incredibly nuanced face of the theyyam.

The mukhathezhuthu (face painting) of the theyyam, a traditional art form which has its origins in the Malabar region of Kerala, is extremely intricate. “I had to recreate each line and curve accurately. I had to research in order to get the patterns on the head gear and the face right,” says Suresh. Sketching took two to three hours. Then came sorting the confection according to colour, size and shape. “The initial idea was to use just cookies made at the bakery. But the artist had to use bread, buns, dried fruits, puffed rice, jalebis and laddoos to capture the complexity of the mukhathezhuthu,” says cook book author and chef consultant of the bakery, Rasheed Muhammed, who conceived the idea.

Out of the box

The bakery had held a week-long festival to mark its second anniversary in July this year, showcasing 150 kinds of traditional handmade biscuits. The cookies sold at the bakery are made by a family of bakers at Faridabad.

“The idea was to create awareness and appreciation for our own diverse traditions of sweet-making in a creative way,” says Rasheed. The cookies in the portrait were sent to a veterinary farm for recycling, he adds. “Being in the open for 15 hours would turn the cookies soggy and we did not want it to go to waste,” Rasheed adds.

For artist Suresh, who has created photographic portraits of celebrities and national heroes with everything from nails to gold ornaments, the creative process most often involves physical labour.

For instance, his 80th and most recent portrait was of Mahatma Gandhi: he made it using over one lakh inflated balloons at the Kerala University campus in Thiruvananthapuram. The 182-feet installation needed over 100 people to set it up. “But it is a labour of love,” he says.

Most of his portraits are installations — he made a 3D installation of Messi after the Copa America win for a sports shop in Mathilakam in Kodungallur. The 25-foot work was done using football jerseys, boots and other sports gear. “When you are re-creating people’s faces with materials, your options for colours are limited. You have to make do with what you have. If the placement of one object in the portrait changes, the person’s face changes,” says Suresh.

He adds, “I don’t know how to explain my process, but I started out painting hoardings and I get my experience from there. The thing about doing such portraits is that there is no rehearsal or a do-over. You just go with the flow.”

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