The Mermaid sculpture on Shangumugham beach in Thiruvananthapuram is one of the major works of famous artist Kanayi Kunhiraman.(Vivek Nair/HT PHOTO)
The Mermaid sculpture on Shangumugham beach in Thiruvananthapuram is one of the major works of famous artist Kanayi Kunhiraman.(Vivek Nair/HT PHOTO)

Kerala art lovers fume after chopper installation near iconic Mermaid sculpture

  • Art lovers say tourists line up before the helicopter to take selfies and group photos these days ignoring the sculpture and it was a deliberate move to outshine the art.
By Ramesh Babu | Edited by Sabir Hussain
PUBLISHED ON JAN 11, 2021 06:17 PM IST

Art lovers in Kerala and the state tourism department are on a collision course, months after the latter placed a helicopter installation next to the ‘Mermaid’ sculpture of famous artist Kanayi Kunhiraman on Shangumugham beach in the state capital.

WATCH | Mermaid vs helicopter in Kerala: War over beach art installations


They allege the Mi-18 helicopter was installed near the sculpture to belittle the art and “insult” the 100-feet long sculpture, a major tourist attraction on the beach. Art lovers say tourists line up before the helicopter to take selfies and group photos these days ignoring the sculpture and it was a deliberate move to outshine the art.


The octogenarian artist, who was the disciple of legendary artist K C S Paniker, was equally upset and threatened not to attend any government function till the ‘machine’ was removed.

“I was really shocked to see the insensitive attitude of the government. The space was my canvass and everything in the background was part of it. I made ‘Jalakanyaka’ (Mermaid) as a tribute to the sea. I don’t know how they placed a machine beside my work of art,” said the angry artist who sculpted many statues, busts and art forms in Kerala, Chennai and the National Gallery of Modern Arts in New Delhi.


He said he was not against tourism but it should not be at the cost of an art form and claimed that he was not consulted before the helicopter was placed beside his ‘progeny.’

“I really toiled to sculpt ‘Jalakanyaka’ and spent more than a month with fishermen 30 years ago to conceive the idea. Many foreign countries invited me to settle there but I made Kerala my home. Is this reward you give the artist in his twilight years,” he said.

Writer and columnist Paul Zacharia was the first to air his concern and many writers and artists soon rallied around him saying it was as good as killing the 30-year-old sculpture. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala and BJP leader and former Governor of Mizoram Kummanam Rajasekharan also deplored the move.

“It is a painful thing. Travellers and tourists will bemoan such an inhuman act,” said famous travel writer and blogger Santosh George Kulangara. He said the Air Force helicopter should have been kept in a children’s park or museum. Art connoisseurs allege the helicopter was installed near the statue during the early stages of lockdown last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic when visitors were not allowed in tourist destinations.

But a senior official of the tourism department said the Air Force had chosen the spot after a request for space to place the helicopter to attract youth to join the force. The official said they never thought it would trigger such a protest. He said Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan was aware of the controversy and would take a final decision on the issue soon.


Kerala’s tourism minister Kadakampally Surendran was also in a fire-fighting mode.


“I will talk to the artist soon,” said state tourism minister Kadakampally Surendran.


Art lovers have threatened a sit-in before the ‘Mermaid’ if ‘justice’ was not done in a couple of days.

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