|   On the photography of Abul Kalam Azad   |

Kabita Mukhopadhyay


In this series of work, Abul Kalam Azad frontally communicates with his sharp black and white images, radically forcing his way out of a voyeur’s position to stand as a photographer; to turn his iconic documentation into the statement of an image-maker. In the 1990s, Abul traveled extensively the length and width of  North India, and documented the unmistakable scar of time, the dilemma of post-emergency India—the erupting quest of the haunted sphinx of history at the foreground of a degenerating architecture of faith. This is evident in the set of work that deals with the violent message of an unending search for identity. The sense of belonging with a human conscience—socio-political and cultural—playing the protagonist, and sipping the historical loss and alienation from one’s own history.

Divine Façades is a series of frontal encounters, one gets lost in their directness and simplicity. We encounter a silhouetted palm against a muted skyline with a structure from the Lodi period, a pre-Mughal evidence of Muslim architecture in India. It is an autobiographical work, a self-portrait, the artist says. A dedication to the poetic architecture of the art of photography, Azad shuffles his visual experiences and signs a declaration about the polity of his search into the tissues of Indian history. A palm blocking a frame with a Lodi time architecture on top of the surface, Azad scribbles with a pin. This is a political way of emphasizing a historical point, in defence of history. In the context of the demolition of Babri Masjid, these images stand at the historical frontier of human resistance. Azad deploys the powerful language of human presence, the presence of man before history… the humblest people with no air of power around them. The portraits’ cut and closed up textures of life become biographical with the manual scribbling, thus making a statement on the individual history of the ‘ant hill’—‘people of a nation’. Frontally, these portraits cut the surface into two inaccessible halves and become monumental.

Azad travels through his sense of history with his conscious tool—his camera—and scales out a chronical of a text of visual history of a most troubled time in the human socio-political context of India. Before the Blue Mosque, the man with a cat reminds us of the forgotten story of a culture, of a life full of textural commonness that depicts a story. The story of a decoded reality in which a cat easily crossed in through a scroll of Persian miniature straight at the middle of life itself.

One torso, one horn of a massive black bovine form, a resting bicycle, the architectural background, ball pen scribbles and finally, scars, are collectively depicting something more than just a symbolic implication. Researching on neo-realistic idiom, Azad reveals the frame with the true scar of time, thus opening a dialogue with his audience in a frank and forward gesture. Azad resists the distorting modes of power by foregrounding the testimony of being.

Black Mother is the continuation of Azad’s cultural search for the archetypal Mother image that started with his Goddesses (1998). The Goddesses of the 4th century, the Goddesses of the 20th-21st century, and the Mother Goddesses of pre-history are the field of his study. The point is to encounter the reality in the primordial nature of this pre-historic popular icon that is Mother, within the context of time within. The biological ancientness boils into the blackness of the photographs, exploring the utmost human possibility of the medium of Photography. The black here ceases to remain a color in order to become the darkness of the Garva Greeha, the womb. The snaps of the temple wall, dripping with oil, profoundly narrate the science of the human urge for religion. They reveal the basics of human nature and iconographic symbolism in a pure abstract graphic interpretation. In this series, Azad studies the body of religion and finds its pimples of non-spiritual elements: faith, fanatism and social trance, letting his audience experience them through the classified visuals.

Azad presents a set of disturbing clues from his visual-anthropological research in a specific time that urgently needs to have a close look at the ‘ant hill’ that is the ‘people of a nation’, and he succeeds in identifying the graphic lines of human struggle, incessantly growing on the skin of life and time as the testimony of survival.