Still Life Series by Abul Kalam Azad done in 2010
My Anger and Other Stories, is an autobiographical still-life series that Abul Kalam Azad did during his last days in Mattancherry, where his Studio Mayalokam was situated. It was from this studio – which was one of the earliest artist studios in Mattanchery, established in an old Dutch warehouse in the busy bazaar roads that he had restored, and going on to become a buzzing hub for artists for over a decade (2000 – 2010) – he had done the complete set of digital and analogue amalgamatory works, while at the same diligently documenting the life and lifestyle of subaltern people of Mattancherry.
Contrary to the motley, complex set of images that started with Divine Façade in (1995) and ended with Three Lovers (2010), My Anger and Other Stories is a set of simple still life images, which marked the beginning of his working with lo-fi digital and analogue cameras, including lomography and smart phones. Many of the works done after 2010, like the Chronicles of Tiruvannamalai, 365Days – A Myopic View, and Cinema Paradiso, were lo-fi digital/analogue series. Since 2014, he has also returned to using large and medium format traditional film cameras.
Still lifes are another recurrent theme in his works. His series titled ‘Trap’ done in 1991 – 1995, and exhibited in Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi was a set of three large chemical prints that had allegorical objects – a mouse trap, used handgun bullets collected from Kashmir and a dagger – each image with its pure surface scratched, doodled, and drawn with images of violation such as sword, torch etc. The show was titled ‘Violence Undone’ – the images being representations of violence, and metaphorically, this sheer act of destruction results in deconstructing the pretexts of violence. There have been a few other still life series, and in each of these, Abul’s vision of ‘still life’ is markedly different.
Still lifes have been found adorning the interiors of ancient Egyptian tombs, and ancient Greek vase paintings demonstrate great skill in depicting everyday objects and animals. Similar still lifes, more decorative in intent but with realistic perspectives, have also been found on the Roman wall paintings and floor mosaics unearthed at Pompeii. Through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, still lifes in Western painting remained primarily an adjunct to Christian religious subjects and conveyed religious and allegorical meaning. This was particularly true in the works of Northern European artists, whose fascination with highly detailed optical realism and symbolism led them to channel great attention onto their paintings’ overall message. The genre is one that has seen path-breaking experimentations, and continues to survive well into the postmodern period.
As far as photography is concerned, the still life genre has long escaped the purview of social documentaries – its importance mainly on making commercial photographs to build the consumer base and most of the Indian photographers who are keen photojournalists or commercial photographers haven’t shown much interest in its artistic possibilities. To Abul, however, “still life” connotes a different meaning, importance, and relevance. They are objects that are directly connected with his everyday life, each with its own story and memories that are intimate and deeply personal; and at the same time, there are objects that are symbolic to a society and its complex structures – mythical, mythological, religious and otherwise. That is why found objects, printed materials, used/discarded items etc. have a place in his vision of still life.
His last few months in Mattancherry was a turning point of sorts – both in his personal and professional life – and like any artist who would rather reach out to the quiet inner space to express the transformation that was happening than blanking out in the darkness of oblivion, Abul was engrossed in creating Three Lovers, Cochin Dockland, and My Anger and Other Stories.
In My Anger and Other Stories, the broken toys of his child, the stones from the Dead Sea, a bronze pot that looks like it has suffered heavy bouts of angry beating, a balm, the left over clothes of his lover and child, his own boxers, a mosquito bat – everything blends together weaving the story of his own life and surroundings - its turbulent ups and downs, love and denial, and triumphs and failure.
Probably, as he was packing his belongings, he was discarding certain objects and the memories along with it, and taking with him certain others – and possibly because the photographer in him didn’t want to lose even a single memory, he decided to immortalise the memories in photographs, making them independent of the objects in which they were so far vested.
Abul Kalam Azad | Modern Pigment Prints
Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi, Curator, EtP
Gautham Ramachandran, Associate Curator, EtP
Arjun Ramachandran, Associate Curator, EtP
Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi
Special Thanks To:
Johny ML, Art Historian/Curator
Ram Rahman, Photographer/Curator
UAF (United Art Fair)
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