Abul Kalam Azad’s works are, in a sense, a re-reading/re-interpretation of the word “untouchable” in the Indian context, re-appropriating the word as a title to the champions and enigmatic personas, both in historic/pop-cultural contexts, and related to his own life.
Abul Kalam Azad’s works are, in a sense, a re-reading/re-interpretation of the word “untouchable” in the Indian context, re-appropriating the word as a title to the champions and enigmatic personas, both in historic/pop-cultural contexts, and related to his own life. The Untouchables series (2000-2005) of images utilizes iconic figures that exist as intangibles in the local cultural subconscious, elevated to an ethereal plane, and translates them into a more universal visual language. By incorporating visual elements and the aesthetics introduced by the pioneers of western pop-art movement like Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Richard Hamilton etc., Abul projects these icons on a wider canvas of pop-culture language.
Digitally re-working scanned images, Abul has produced an expansive body of work, smudging the borders between digital and analogue, real and the surreal, image and iconography. “... I was working on the photographic project ‘Untouchables’. The images are based on an autobiographical reality and an understanding of everyday life. The Pop Art language is used as a retro effect. The symbols are all gathered from my past memories and social experiences, is a re-looking, and is a redoing [of] the readily existing images. Further, words are also communicated as an image. Some of them are local imageries and others are derived from my family albums. My family album of sepia-tinted photographs form a large portion of this work as images from it move on to a large scale, reworked in digital.” – Abul Kalam Azad reflects on his works.
His works can be considered as an active intervention in the common discourse of local micro-history, with the images themselves reflecting and relating to socio-political references. The images used in the series are mostly of poets, litterateurs, political leaders. For example, Kumaran Asan, M.G.R, Krishna Pillai, Mahatma Gandhi, Medha Patkar etc., who had been remarkable in their ideology and contribution to the society. It also consists objects and communicating articles which have left an indelible mark on the social, cultural, and political sphere.
From the image of Rajan – a haunting reminder of the harrowing tales of Emergency era Kerala, singed into the minds of young people – to the cover logo of Dinesh beedi – a pop cultural symbol of sorts, an icon from an era when strong socialist winds were sweeping across the land – the series explores the incorporeal and impalpable associated with certain visuals. Images from Azad’s personal life too, have found their way into the works – like the photograph of his mother, his own self portrait etc.
In a reversal of contextual meaning, they are “Untouchables”, unmatchable, and unrivalled in their capacity to define the perceptions of a person who has grown up with these visuals, due to their stature, achievements, and charisma – thereby raising them to the status of surreal icons, timeless images dressed in modern metaphors, more than just blood and bone.
Abul Kalam Azad | Modern Pigment Prints
Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi, Curator, EtP
Gautham Ramachandran, Associate Curator, EtP
Arjun Ramachandran, Associate Curator, EtP
Special Thanks To:
Sharan Apparao, Apparao Gallery
Bose Pacia Modern, New York
To see more of Abul Kalam Azad's works see
To know more about our initiatives see