Alleppey is probably only mentioned in the context of vacation spots in India. Its pristine backwaters fringed with miles of long palm and coconut trees feature numerously in ‘best holiday destinations’ reads. But no one associates Alleppey with fine art, although Sara Hussain is working her way up to put the quiet town on India’s art map. Unfortunately, Sara lost her father at a young age. With limited finances, a widowed mother and three siblings, her future was bleak and unsure. After school, she pursued a short diploma course in painting. Sara was only 17 when she passed her degree and was still not confident with what she’d do with it.
“I wanted to start earning as soon as possible,” says 37-year-old Sara, struggling with speaking in English, but trying nonetheless. A friend advised Sara to meet an artist who ran an advertising agency in Eranakulam. Not having a clue what she would do in an ad agency, Sara went to meet Mr. Onyx Paulose. The sculptor gave her a job in his company and soon realized she had a knack for painting. Sara says, “He introduced me to oil painting. He taught me everything about it.” She owes a lot to Onyx, she says, an esteemed artist in Kerala who has won the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi award for his sculptures. Sara’s first-ever exhibit was at Onyx’s annual exhibit in Kerala.
It’s been 18 years since and Sara still works with her mentor. When his advertising agency shut down, both of them came to Fort Kochi to begin something new. For a year, they worked out of an aquatic club in the port town and then rented a small studio space to continue their work. Onyx was a popular name in the field already. Gradually, the duo started receiving paintings and artwork orders from local hotels and churches.
There isn’t a single five-star hotel in Kochi that doesn’t have Sara’s paintings. Hotel Crowne Plaza bought 272 paintings from her to decorate their lounges and rooms, while Le Meridien’s art gallery has Sara’s work as part of their curated exhibit. It was during a stay in Le Meridien that renowned Indian cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar, spotted Sara’s paintings. He and his wife loved her work so much that they bought a handful for their personal collection. Sara recalls that moment as a milestone.