Quadriplegic artist ‘Machu’ evokes a never-say-die spirit through his first solo show

Wheelchair-bound Shamshudeen Mashood celebrated Fort Kochi through his first solo exhibition ‘Machu Kochi: Art and Heart of Kochi’

Brightly coloured images are suspended daintily on a fishing net placed creatively between two bamboo poles. Other paintings light up the walls at YWCA, Fort Kochi. ‘Machu Kochi: Art and Heart of Kochi’, a one-day exhibition held on November 28, was a dream come true for 46-year-old Machu, aka Shamshudeen Mashood.

Machu is quadriplegic (a condition which is characterised by muscle weakness in all four limbs). He lost his father early and the family struggled to make ends meet. He was raised by his grandmother and did not have the confidence to venture out of his home till he was 15. He had no formal education. Machu’s sister would read out stories and he would draw images from her school books. He taught himself to hold the pencil by inserting it between his thumb and forefinger.

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“Sometimes I have to use a cord to firm the pencil to draw.” Despite the challenge of moving around, Machu goes about his work with a huge smile. “He makes light of every problem, including being differently-abled,” says Vipin Cyrus, a social entrepreneur who organised the exhibition of Machu’s works that were done during the pandemic.

Small canvas

Machu recalls sitting under a big mango tree near the beach in the 1980s, when he first began venturing out. “It was difficult to draw on anything bigger than a small page. That is why my canvases are small,” he explains. He would sit on the floor and move the canvas around with great difficulty. Later the government gave him a wheelchair and this made life slightly easier.

His life changed in the 1990s, when the boost to tourism brought passenger ships and cruise liners to Kochi. A Swiss lady who stayed back in Fort Kochi opened a cafe called The Melting Pot. She began to display his paintings and then opened Machu’s Art Gallery in the space.

Slowly, his works were sold, allowing him to contribute to the household. The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, has continued to support him. A group of his friends have also stood by him, carrying him around in their arms to all the events.

They also arranged his marriage, which allowed Machu to move out of his joint family to set up his own household. He has two school-going children. “My daughter has an artistic bent of mind and my son helped us put up this exhibition.”

Foreigners and tourists who saw him sketching by the roadside gifted him paints and paper and slowly Machu began to explore various mediums. He tried watercolours, moved on to oils and now works in acrylics. His inspirations are “Nature, scenes of Fort Kochi, Chinese fishing nets, the elephant and the rain.”

Each work at the exhibition is a testimony to Machu’s never-say-die spirit.

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