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  • Three sculptures by Balan Nambiar for The Reitberg Museum, Zurich and Bihar Govt

    Published on May 8, 2019

    The Rietberg Museum run by the city of Zurich in Switzerland, is the only art museum in Europe for non-European Art, focusing on the traditional and contemporary arts and cultures of Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Oceania, it has some 23,000 objects and 37,000 ethnographic photographs in its collection. It consists of several historical building in Rieterpark on a small hillock in central Zurich, near the lake.


    The exhibition MIRRORS – The Reflected Self opens on May 16 at Rietberg Museum.

    This is the first time that an exhibition takes a global look at the cultural history of the mirror, stretching back thousands of years. In ancient Egypt, among the Maya of Mexico, in Japan, in Venice as well as in the world of modern art and movies – over the ages civilizations across the globe have produced and relied on mirrors, and ascribed to them varying meanings and powers.

    Based on 200 artworks from 95 museums and collections around the world, photographs and scenes from movies, this exhibition, for the first time, presents a comprehensive history of the mirror reaching back eight thousand years: mirror images and self-awareness, vanity, beauty, mysticism and magic, protection and defence, and today’s most fashionable mirror – the selfie.

    Two sculptures by Balan Nambiar for Rietberg Museum


    101cm high “Kannati Bimbam to Bhagavati” and 60 cm high “Symbolising Shakti” are the result of my research on Mirror Idol worship in Kerala. Both these works are acquired by the Museum Rietberg and will be part of the MIRRORS exhibition opening on May 16, 2019.

    Kannati-Bimbams are installed in place of idols of worship in the sanctum sanctorum of mostly the mother goddess Bhagavati in northern Kerala. The consecration rituals are identical for both the Kannati-Bimbam and the idols, which are considered divine objects thereafter.


    Paying obeisance to the Kannati-Bimbam is considered as one of the highest forms of worship in Kerala. It is the visible symbol of “aham brahmasmi” (I am Bramha) and this realisation can be achieved only through dedication and contemplation. The devotees look at the Kannati-Bimbam, at the sanctum sanctorum, observe their own image reflected in the mirror or Kannati, and meditate upon it in worship.

    Traditionally Kannati-Bimbams are made in bronze, very often in pancaloha, an alloy of five metals comprising copper, silver, gold, tin and zinc. The frontal surface of the Kannatis is mirror-polished, while the rear has a matt-finish. This is unlike the metal mirrors of China and other cultures, where the rear of the mirrors has elaborate designs of various motifs. Both the Kannati and the prabhavali are fitted on to a base in such a way that these items can be dismantled for the purpose of cleaning and for the ritual baths. The prabhavalis have an odd number of flame-like decorations on the left and right, topped by a prominent kiritimukha, such as those often found in Chola bronze icons.

    “I have been inspired by the Kannati-Bimbam and its symbolic meaning and recreated it in my own way in a durable metal as stainless steel. While doing this, I have made several sketches, computer generated drawings, laser cutting and TIG welding to achieve the required precision and composition.” Says Balan Nambiar

    A 21ft high Sculpture for Bihar Government.


    Sculpture for Patna is a 21ft high sculpture in304 grade stainless steel. This was commissioned by the Bihar Government to be installed in front of “Police Bhavan”, a newly constructed modern building which is designed to withstand a strong earthquake. The Police Bhavan will house the Chief Minister’s office and the Home department. The sculpture depicts various activities coming under Home department. As a sculpture, it is a departure from many of my earlier monumental sculptures, that it simultaneously combine both symmetry and asymmetry, exploring the possibility of the medium of stainless steel. My creative work in stainless steel go through many sketches, drawings, computer generated design, laser cutting, TIG welding, grinding and polishing before installation. It took six months to complete the sculpture.