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Behold Mona Lisa as the Narumugai

Miles away in the neighbourhood of Arumbakkam, sits Sowmya Ramalingam, a 37-year-old artiste and an illustrator, who has reconceptualised Mona Lisa, with a Tamil twist

Behold Mona Lisa as the Narumugai

Mona Lisa re-envisioned by Sowmya

CHENNAI: Behind bulletproof glass inside the Louvre Museum in Paris, lies the exquisitely painted Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci. A portrait of an ordinary woman, sitting in front of a mountain landscape, modestly dressed in a pellucid veil, pitch dark robe, with unadorned jewelry.

Miles away in the neighbourhood of Arumbakkam, sits Sowmya Ramalingam, a 37-year-old artiste and an illustrator, who has reconceptualised Mona Lisa, with a Tamil twist.

“Mona Lisa is one of the most admired pieces of art for every artist and art enthusiast. When we compare all the artwork that represent women and their beauty at the time, Mona Lisa is right on top. She breaks the stereotype and proves that beauty can be seen in its most natural form, with just an intriguing smile,” Sowmya explains.

“I really wanted to see her as a Tamil woman, in our traditional attire, just to see her shine through a different light,” she states when asked about her vision of Mona Lisa as the Narumugai, which took her a week to accomplish the final output.

Narumugai is seen draped in an ebony black saree with a delicate line of thin golden border, which adds royalty to her overall persona. Two layers of muthu maalai sit magnificently on her, thick golden bangles, with big pearl-drop earrings, which are subtly covered by the strands of her jet black curly hair.

The portrait is completed by the Narumugai donning a pure white stone mookuthi, and a small red pottu, which represents the third eye, an eye of profundity and of the sacred feminine powers of Indian women, completing her transition to a Tamil beauty to be behold.

Narumugai, the name she chose to describe the beauty of the portrait, came from her understanding of the southern tradition of naming women.

“In the southern region of Tamil Nadu, people used to have a practice of choosing the name of flowers to name women, which is something I decided to go with, while in the process of visualising the Mona Lisa,” says Sowmya.

A self taught artiste, she paved her career path into visual media, and is a freelance illustrator for more than ten years. Experimenting all genres of art, surrealism and metaphorical realism has been her most practiced artform.

“Art has become part of my life, which I see as a beautiful form of expression,” she states.

The visual artiste finds joy in celebrating the charm and grace of women through her art. She started sketching her portrayal of an ordinary Indian woman from the time she was six. “My first drawing was of a woman’s face which I used to sketch on the walls, muddy floors, charcoal, notebooks and almost everywhere,” Sowmya reminisces.

‘Girl with a pearl earring’, a well recognised oil painting by Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer also seems to have intrigued the visual artiste, who re-envisioned the beauty of Griet, a 16-year-old Dutch girl who was a housemaid for the painter Johannes Vermeer.

Girl with a Pearl Earring reimagined by Sowmya

“One of the greatest pieces of art showcasing the alluring beauty of a woman, it always left me with so many questions as to what made him paint her, why the pearl earrings, and how a single pearl can compliment an astonishing beauty,” she states.

“What if Mona Lisa was from Tamil Nadu?” a question which finally led Sowmya to portray the mystique beauty with a traditional touch of elegance and sophistication.

According to the metaphorical realism artist, where there is art, there is love and peace, which the world needs more of. “My works are a reflection of my mind, which perceives women as a powerful reference to the existence of humankind. If we don’t artify and celebrate women, who will?” the artiste questions.

Ankita Nair
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