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Sculptures Come to Life

The Ornate Costumes of the Theyyam


‘Tales of Malabar’ was a project for the Dutch Consulate General and the Embassy, New Delhi. It focused on the history of the Malabar region in India and it's aim was to pay homage to the idiosyncratic culture, history and rituals of the diverse people and religions of the Malabar region that were influenced by trade and cultural connections. For this project, a harmonious exhibit had to be created, that explained the history and culture of the Malabar region, designed especially for a travelling museum within Kerala- which meant that the final outcomes had to be easily transportable and storable.

My installation focused on the Theyyam, which has been described as a form of worship, a possession ceremony, a ritual dance and a performing art. It is a complex and intricate system of symbols, movements, costumes, tradition and history, mostly performed in Northern Kerala. It is a method to demonstrate the supernatural and to bring them to the human world through the vehicle of the specified people who are born in to this role.

Since there are 450 types of Theyyam that are performed today, It was important for me to narrow down on what made this ritual so unique- The intricate and elaborate costumes. The facial decorations are intricately designed with enriched symbolism and the hood, headdress, face painting, breastplate, bracelets, garlands and fabric of attire of each Theyyam are distinct and meticulously crafted. I concentrated on two Theyyam costumes: Muthappan and Muchilottu Bhagwati.


Muthappan (Left) and Muchilottu Bhagwati (Right)

12 ft x 12 ft

MDF, Coloured Acrylic, Mirrors, Silver, Kundan, Zari thread, Silk 


The Theyyam is performed in the courtyard of a house or village temple. As the artist gets ready, the spirit of the deity is evoked during the night time and the ritual continues till the next morning. Light and shadow play a big part in each performance, as most of them are lit by lamp light. To incorporate the light and shadow in to the installation, the costumes were illustrated and Laser-cut in to MDF. These created vivid shadows when light was projected on to it.


The costumes look like one piece when put on, but are actually made up of several pieces. In the installation, the pieces were displayed separately to show how they are divided. The intricate details and symbols of the costumes were replicated with painting and surface embellishment.



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1. Illustration: Separate pieces of the costumes were digitally illustrated

2. Laser cutting: The illustrations were laser cut in to MDF, a durable, light material that could be transported easily for the travelling museum.

3. Making big pieces foldable: In order to make the storage and transportation of the bigger pieces easy, they were laser-cut in two parts and attached with  hinges to make them foldable.

Painting: All the pieces were painted with emulsion paint, at it has a matte finish and is long lasting

Detailing and surface embellishment: Details of the costume were meticulously hand painted and then embellished with mirrors, thread and kundan.

Acrylic: In order for the costume to project coloured light, coloured acrylic pieces were cut and were stuck individually  inside the MDF.


Replacing natural material (Textile Component)


Since parts of the costume are made from natural material, a substitute that would last a long time had to be produced. Therefore, the florals on Muchilottu Bhagwati's costume which are made of coconut fronds, were substituted with organza. The organza was dyed to get an accurate shade match and was pleated and heat-set between aluminium foil. The pleated organza was then formed in to flowers.

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