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Pixilated images, private thoughts

Contemporary photography touches a new high with `Untouchables'

PHOTO: H.VIBHU

NEW IDIOM One of the works at the the exhibition of paintings by Abul Kalam Azad at Taj Malabar

It was one of photography's finest hours in the city. `Untouchables' an exhibition of photographic works by Abul Kalam Azad at Taj Malabar was novel in more ways than one. With just four framed works on exhibit, the rest, a vast library of images, was streamed on either side of the room, appearing and reappearing, like turning the pages of an album. Though such displays, projections of images, are not common in Kochi (Anoop Mathew Thomas' works were shown similarly) it is a powerful, ergonomic way to conduct an exhibition of photographs. Photographs by virtue of being a different and technical medium warrant a more mechanical expression, just as this show was. And it had the desired effect on a crowd that was discerning.

The next novelty was the language of the exhibits. Iconoclastic almost to the point of "irreverence" as a young designer said of the works, the matrix was pictures from the artist's family albums.

Emotional journey

Carefully chosen the tell-tale images of times gone by, of memories that rankle and rant, of disappeared loves, of homes that once held sway, of men that mattered, of women who ruled, of hearths and hearts, of ideologies, of blood, sweat and tears and of emotions that have never let go of the artist the `Untouchables' is a veritable emotional journey.

A journey that troubles just as it tells of the lives and times of India, of Kerala and of closer home, Mattancherry.

So indelible have these images been that reliving them the artist has indulged in a cathartic, conscious deconstruction. Most of the images are scratched and reveal a troubled energy.

"It had been an emotionally surcharged journey," said a relaxed Azad, after the show. Living like a recluse for the past five years, and the last one-year even shutting off the doors to his Masala Co. studio, Azad worked on the images, digitally and in serigraphy, working years on them or taking years away from them, reliving each memory happily or with sadness.

So local are the images, so Malayali in character, so Indian on a larger scale that they are bound to strike a chord in every viewer. The Mahatma, Indira Gandhi, MGR, AKG, Narayana Guru, Nataraja Guru, actress Sheila, and a local icon from Mattancherry, Mehboob, are some of the `Untouchables' touching once again in a fresh vocabulary.

Reaching out through photographs superimposed by architectural lines, of historical buildings and homes, by everyday images, the cow and the car, again superimposed by ideology: Left, Emergency, fascists, voices that excite a Malayali, anywhere, anytime, the Untouchables are called so because of "their stature, their achievements."

Old images dressed in a very new idiom, a pop art language of Warhol that made Campell's soup all the more famous is used effectively.

A young, modern style that yokes two ages analogue and digital, a wonderful pastiche of past and present, of cut and paste, of thought over images and images over thought, of negative and positive, a play of light and dark, of shadows that surface and an ever widening lens view that captures all in a single frame, the works are undoubtedly inspiring.

If contemporary photography is all about newness in style and presentation then it is here. If it is reflective of the changing moods, of changing ideology, of comrades being catalyst to free trade and celebrities being human then contemporary photography as in the `Untouchables' is seeing its finest moment.

PRIYADARSSHINI SHARMA

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