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Dipti Nair
Art is the expression of a creative nature, and he who gives a visual representation to his thoughts, is an artist. Art is not restricted to a certain form or medium and the artist is at liberty to express himself in any way he chooses.
Biju Chandrika Gangadharan, 36, is an artist and his chosen art form is carving fragrant bathing soap bars.
A computer graphics professional with over 15 years of experience in 3D and web graphics, Biju came to Doha five years ago and brought along his passion and creativity.
Born in a family with little artistic background in Kerala, India, Biju had his first brush with art at a very young age and that too with replicating images.
"My father used to run a provision store that also sold newspapers," says Biju."The newspaper bundles used to be wrapped in big sized blank papers and these blank papers would be my canvas. I would select a small picture and make a grid on it. I would make a grid of equal ratio on the big paper and replicate the image from the small picture by measuring and drawing on the big paper, box by box, thereby, getting an enlarged picture instead of an exact traced same-size copy."
Biju always wanted to do something different, to stand out in a crowd. This tenacity made him try different forms of art to satisfy his creative urges.
From using the grid method to draw and enlarge images, Biju proceeded to sculpting on a type of packing foam. But once he realised that the dust emitted during the carving process, if inhaled, posed a huge health risk, he moved to another medium sand. Biju joined a local sand-artist and his team, initially as a water-boy and then proceeding to assist in some of the bigger sculptures. But his fervour for recognition and individual achievement made him look for another medium to express himself.
That's when he stumbled upon soap.
"I found soap bars to be the perfect medium for me to sculpt on, as firstly, they are safe, and secondly, the work time is much shorter. From start to finish, it takes me 30 to 90 minutes on an average, to make a single sculpture, and that is ideal, as I can work on it whenever I get a little free time from my regular job," Biju said.
The longest that he has worked on a soap sculpture is that of a cobra ready to strike, it took him a good five hours to get the details right on that figurine.
But soap being a soft material has its disadvantages too, Biju quickly points out.
"The softness of soap makes it a very easy material to sculpt on. But that very advantage is its biggest weakness. A bar of soap is a single piece, so a small error can ruin the whole design, as you cannot bring it back or patch it up. While carving, you have to be extremely careful and gentle, a little extra force can change the effect drastically and completely ruin the design. I have had many works ruined in this manner."
This remarkable sculptor even dabbled with clay modelling for a while. Clay is a very flexible medium, where you are not limited by size. Clay sculptures are easier to make, rods or wires can be used to add appendages and mistakes can also be smoothed over easily. But the achiever in Biju, revels in the challenges that soap provides, not to mention the uniqueness of the craft, and he went back to his favourite medium - the soap bar.
Biju initially started sculpting using a small sharp-edged screwdriver, which he has reverently kept even today, though nowadays he prefers to use the more convenient moulding tools available for clay modelling.
Over the years, Biju has lost many of the earlier soap sculptures he had made. Also very few have escaped the damages wrecked by time on them, though he still has saved the very first soap sculpture he made, almost 10 years ago.
"The first sculpture I did on soap was that of a child. I received a lot of positive feedback and appreciation for that piece of work and that was what encouraged me to go ahead with this art form," he said.
One of his personal favourites is a 2.8 cm figurine representing 'Kathakali' a traditional art form of Kerala.
Biju credits all his art and creativity to his late father Gangadharan, from whom he learned the valuable lesson of the importance of hard work.
"My father was a very hard-working man. He used to do all the odd jobs around the house. My sister and I have grown up watching him work hard. Seeing him do things which he didn't really know much about, but still put his mind to it, and in the end managing to do it well. This gave me the confidence that even I can do anything I put my mind to. He has always encouraged us to think outside the box, to do things which may seem difficult at first but can be done through perseverance and effort."
Biju is very attached to his family, his mother Chandrika, his wife of eight years Surya, five-year-old son Devarsh and his elder sister Bindhu are his support system and strength. He believes that many talented people find themselves restrained by family issues, which prevent them from exploring their creativity fully. He considers himself lucky to have been blessed with family that has supported him throughout and has encouraged him to embrace his art.
Biju now has around 50 soap sculptures that he has made over the years and which are preserved in beautiful customised glass and wood cases. He is hoping to have an exhibition of his work soon.
"There is a lot of work and finances involved in doing an exhibition and right now, for me, it is not possible without financial backing. However, I am in talks to hold an exhibition at the Al Dosari Park. I hope it materialises soon."
Like all ambitious artists Biju also has his eyes on the big prize The Guinness World Records.
"It's a dream to get my name into the Guinness World Records. I contacted them but was informed that as yet there is no category for soap sculptures but they could create one if I apply to it and am considered worthy enough. That is my next target. I may fail, but that does not deter me. I will keep trying," the go-getter said.
Strangely, Biju does not consider himself an artist with inborn talent.
"I don't have any inborn talent, I know that. If I had real talent, I would have been able to create a sculpture merely by visualising a person and from memory, without using any pictures. But I can't do that. Whatever I have done, is based on pure hard work, an interest in art, and a desire to do something more.
"I feel everyone has some hidden talent in them but not everyone brings it out. I just hope my story will inspire people to put in the labour required to give exposure to their talent. It is very easy for talent to go unnoticed but it really mustn't," he said.
For details you can contact Biju CG on [email protected].
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