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Surendran Nair

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1956, Kerala, India
Lives and works in Baroda, India

Surendran Nair is an internationally renowned artist known for his surrealistic style of paintings, heavily relying on symbolism. His works are influenced by various traditional as well as contemporary images such as film posters, political graffiti etc. Mediums used by him are oil paints, water colors and he often indulges in print making as well.



Post Diploma (Printmaking) from M.S.U. Baroda, India


BFA (Painting) from College of Fine Arts, Kerala, India


Diploma (Painting) College of Fine Arts, Kerala, India

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Elements shaping Surendran Nair's work

Surendran Nair’s works are inspired from theatre and mostly contain an element from theatre. As a teenager, he spent many a nights with his friends watching Kathakali performances in his village in Kerela. Films, literature and traditional sculptures, performing arts have also influenced his work of art. Nair opines that you do not take the real as it is but process it in your head via your imagination and by revisiting those images that you have encountered.

Surendran Nair, Doctrine of the forest, An actor at play - Cuckoonebulopolis, 2007, oil on canvas

One can gauge the depth of Surendran Nair’s vision while bringing an art piece to life by giving it larger than life meaning. This artwork showcases how the nude actor is staring into infinity even though he has pricked his own finger from the costume he is wearing and this costume is a representation of a scorpion’s tail.

His art is a mixture of traditional and contemporary imagery, injecting whimsicality with reality. He meticulously constructs a web of images in Corollary Mythologies and his The Labyrinth of Eternal Delight.


Surendran Nair, I Beg Your Pardon: The Scorpion Act II - An Actor Meditating On A Character  Of An Imaginary Play, 2002, oil on canvas

Controversial artwork and fame that followed

An Actor Rehearsing the Interior Monologue of Icarus (2000) is Surendran Nair’s most famous work. It displays a naked man with wings, in the image of Icarus from Greek Mythology, standing on the Ashoka Pillar, which is a sacred Indian symbol. This work spread a huge outrage in the art world as it was considered to be disrespect towards the national symbol. The artist subsequently responded to this rejection by appealing to the art world on the grounds that artist should have the right to work with freedom. This attack on artistic freedom led all the artists involved in the exhibition to withdraw from presenting their works at NGMA, New Delhi.

Surendran Nair, An Actor Rehearsing  the Interior Monologue of Icarus, 2000

Interplay between image and text

Not only does Surendran Nair weave a world of idiosyncratic icons, he also intentionally keeps the titles longer and more complicated thus leaving everyone open to guessing and making interpretations that can create dialogues amongst various viewpoints blending together or away from each other. Some of these titles are Dangerous Delusions- The Scorpion Act: An Actor Resting in Between the Performance of an Imaginary P , Mr. George and the lizard (Variation on the theme of St. George and the dragon), 1994, Tonight I am Coming to Visit You in Your Dream and None Will See and Question Me; Be Sure to Leave Your Door Unlocked.

The text does not annotate or describe the image but amplifies and accentuates it, working in tandem with the painting and its (dis)contents. Nair situates his practice midway between the writer and the visual artist. “In Malyalam, you write your paintings, instead of painting it,” he observes. “The word is chitram-ezhuthu which refers to writing, inscribing a picture.” The interplay between image and text could also be due to his involvement in student politics during the mid-70s when he expended his energies into making posters for demonstrations.

Surendran Nair, Melancholy of the Twelfth Man, Cuckoonebulopolis, 2002, oil on canvas, 180 x 320 cm

The Iconic Man

Iconic male figures posing as actors for an imaginary play, in the image of the artist, mean wearing costumes, make-up or masks, swan-man and centaurs crowd his canvases, just as he crowds the man’s bodies with cultural signs. The body of the cosmic man for Nair is palimpsest-ic, bearing a multitude of contemporary cultural symbols on itself.

His male figures have been re-worked with symbols of consumerism, globalisation and youth subculture.

In thINNER Voice, 2003, a naked man painted in imitation of sacred iconography is depicted carrying plastic bags, wearing shoes and headphones. Far from being the enlightened man, the figure is depicted to be encumbered with superfluous possessions. Similarly in Inner Voice, 2005, he fuses the two imageries to represent the swan-man with headphones.

Surendran Nair,Origins : A Tableau - Epiphany (Cuckoonebulopolis), 2013

Surendran Nair, Inner voice - Chapter - The bad behaviour of singularities (Cuckoonebulopolis), 2005