Two portraits of an artist

AP Santhanaraj / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 1986

AP Santhanaraj / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 1996

Most of the Southern Indian artists remember A.P. Santhanaraj as a guru. I am not a student of Santhanaraj and have never met him in person. In the year 1996, during my usual visit to Tiruvannamalai, I saw a familiar person rushing in his moped… he was wearing just a lungi and looked like a speeding Sadhu …. There was something special about him and he resembled Santhanaraj. In my curiosity, I turned my bike and started following his bike. I must have chased him for almost a km and missed him in a turning. I was lost…. I saw a policeman nearby and enquired about Santhanaraj. The policeman asked me with a fond respect, “oh… the artist? He lives in that house…” I knocked the house and the moment he opened, I fell on his feet. He asked, “I cannot recollect you….Are you my student? Did you study in Kerala?…” I replied, “No. I know you from your photographs and many of artists friends like NN Mohandas, K. Prabhakaran, Doughlas etc., have talked a lot about you….” The very same day I took this photograph of A.P. Santhanaraj.
AP Santhanaraj / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 2009

AP Santhanaraj / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / EtP Archives / 2009

In the year 2009, A.P. Santhanaraj passed away and as a tribute to this legend I made the second image titled ‘Eye of an artist’.

Born on March 13th 1932 in Tiruvannamalai, Tamilnadu, Andrew Peter Santhanaraj at the age of four was considered a child prodigy for his fondness for drawing. His powerful and influential mother often distracted him with illustrated alphabets indirectly kindling his interest to the world of visual perception. The young boy was already a rebel in his own right; he considered formal learning artificial and didn’t want to join the local Danish Mission School preferring to pursue a life studying and exploring art. He had heard of the prestigious Madras College of Arts & Craft (then school), and at the age of 10 wanted to join it, but was promptly refused for being drastically underage. He had to wait another 6yrs (1948) for his dream to come true.He completed his Bachelor of Art degree in 1953 with distinction and the gold medal. He then went on to do his Post Graduation (1953 – 55) with scholarship from the same institution. Here, two doyens of the era, Devi Prasad Roy Chowdhury and K.C.S. Panickar shaped his artistic persona. Both believed in non-interference and freedom to the students in their exploration with techniques, materials and basic visual elements. An approach that was congenial to the budding artist, who firmly believed that originality of vision and newness of ideas, should be the very key to learning. Those formative years at the college shaped his vision as an artist. It was here under Panicker’s sway that he developed – the idea of an ‘Indian identity’ within the parameter of world art.

In 1958 at the behest of Panicker who then was the Principal of the Madras College of Arts & Craft, he was appointed as a Lecturer at his alma mater, in the painting dept. In 1985 he became the Principal and continued till 1990. As an art master, he was considered an exemplary mentor, a genius, a pioneer and a trendsetter. In that role he shaped the futures of many promising artists of Chennai like K M Adimoolam, R B Bhaskaran, C Douglas, R M Palaniappan, K. Muralidharan and others. His eccentric nature and emotional passion left a deep impression on them. AP Santhanaraj played a dominant role in the growth and development of the ‘Madras Art Movement’. He is considered by many in South India to be the most influential artist after K.C.S. Panicker and S. Dhanapal that came out of the Madras College of Arts and Craft.

Central to his work from the start was his love for the line; its’ meandering through pictorial space. At some point in his interaction with Panicker he had said “a line is a line, it is universal”. But later in his career when Panickers’ Indian ethos had taken root within him, he qualified this statement to say …”There was something Indian even in a line”. This ethnic sensibility manifested in the primordial quality of his line drawings, giving birth to what could be termed ‘the indigenous line’. Colour was secondary to the line; its use was mostly bright and outlandish. One of the most defining aspects of AP Santhanaraj’s works is the quality of his line. It is this fundamental element, which sets apart this artists stylistic norm. He uses this element spontaneously exploring it endlessly and creating unique visual compositions with it.

A.P Santhanaraj’s contribution to Indian modern art was immense. As an artist he was dedicated to his artistic research, passionate in exploring different mediums and materials. As a teacher he was enthusiastic about his students’ progress and relentless in his effort to make a difference with his pioneering vision. He is considered as one of the pioneers and forerunners of the modern art movement in the country.

(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

Periyakulam weekly chanda

“A peasant become fond of his pig and is glad to salt away its pork. What is significant, and is so difficult for the urban stranger to understand, is that the two statements are connected by an and not by a but” – John Berger

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

 

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Vettavalam is a Panchayath town in Tiruvannamalai District. Periyakulam Chanda (market) is near Vettavalam, about 19 kms from Tirvannamalai. This is one of the very few active Sunday chandas in Tiruvannamalai District. Variety of  cattle, livestock, roosters, pigs, horses, goats, turkeys, rabbits, goose, etc., are arrayed for sales.  Hand made equipment, country vegetables, dry fishes, etc., also become part of this chanda. These color market is vibrant with life and activities. The market becomes active quite early. Pork is prepared and served, often times along with alcohol… one can see several men and women sitting in the sideways and eating. In the age of super market and online shopping practices, these kind of places continue to be a social gathering space. More like a festival, during the weekly chanda, people from neighbouring villages come together, share and laugh, sell and buy, and enjoy this ancient practice.

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Not long before, animals were central to the existence of human beings. Not merely as leather and meat, but as an essential force that co-exists. Their entry into the life of humans was phenomenal. More as messengers and keepers of secrets, they communicated and started living alongside human beings. However, things have fast changed and now most of the animals are in zoos, distant and aloof, having been taken away from their natural habitation. In Tamil nadu, the animals continue to be used for many different purposes. Barter system is still prevalent in certain parts of the fast growing Tamil land. In many ways, the animals are still central to the life of these communities. However, this situation will soon change and animals will be forced to play a mere marginal role.  And, these animals might even become extinct, as their existential link with human beings is bound to change owing to the technological advancement.

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

Periyakulam chanda / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad / 2014

This series is part of my ongoing photographic project in which I use lo-fi cameras to document the changing rural lifestyle and contemporary culture.

Abul Kalam Azad

3rd November 2014

(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by TSL Nadar. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

Abandoned

THE BEATLES IN RISHIKESH

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

“Imagine”

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

– John Lenon (1971)
The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

In the year 2012, I had taken a road trip to Himalayas and on the way back I went to Rishikesh. The off season rain and cold didn’t stop my explorations. As a lover of Beatles, I wanted to visit the Ashram that the Beatles had stayed. The Beatles visited Rishikesh in India, in February, 1968 to attend an advanced Transcendental Meditation ( TM ) training session, at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Amidst widespread media attention, their stay at the ashram was one of the band’s most productive periods. Their adoption of the Maharishi as their guru is credited by some as changing attitudes in the West about Indian spirituality and encouraging the study of Transcendental Meditation. The Beatles had first met the Maharishi in London in August, 1967 and then attended a seminar in Bangor, Wales. Although this seminar in Wales was planned to be a 10-day session, their stay was cut short by the death of their manager, Brian Epstein. Wanting to learn more, they kept in contact with the Maharishi and planned to attend his ashram in October, but their trip was rescheduled due to other commitments.   The Beatles arrived there in February, 1968 along with their partners, girlfriends, assistants and numerous reporters, joining at least 60 other TM students, including musicians, Donovan, Mike Love of the Beach Boys and flautist Paul Horn. While there, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison wrote many songs ( Ringo Starr wrote one ), of which eighteen were later recorded for The Beatles ( White Album ), two for Abbey Road and others for solo works.

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

One fine morning, during my morning walks, I searched for the ashram and unknowingly, I had to walk more than ten kms. Shivering in the cold, I found the ashram, now abandoned…. I bribed the guard to enter the ashram. It was abandoned in 1997 and is  now back under the control of the forest department but the shells of many buildings, meditation cells and lecture halls can still be seen, including Maharishi’s own house and the guest house where the Beatles stayed.. The Maharishi’s compound is across from River Ganga, located in the holy “Valley of the Saints” in the foothills of the Himalayas. The forest undergrowth is what’s left of the original Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram.

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh / Image (C) Abul Kalam Azad / Archival Pigment print / 2012

The Beatles in Rishikesh

Ekalokam collective, a firm set-up to merchandise art in every day life has published a photo-notebook titled ‘the Beatles in Rishikesh’. The Beatles in Rishikesh has been exhibited by Apparao Galleries and United Art Fair II curated by noted photographer and art curator, Ram Rahman.

21st October 2014
Abul Kalam Azad

(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by TSL Nadar. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

 

Magnetic light of the fire mountain

Photos of the gods

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24"x24" / 2008 - 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24″x24″ / 2008 – 2010

My first encounter with the Agni Shylam was incidental. Aruncahala hill is considered as one of the important elements ‘fire’. Geologically this hill is dated to be older than Himalayas and theologically Arunachala hill is equivalent to Senai, Machapuchare and other holy hills. Dravidians (nature worshipers) worship the hill and perambulate the 14 km circumference through out the year. The recurrent references to hills, caves, saints, idols, angels, gods, and goddesses during my early childhood religious (Islamic) surrounding made me search for the deeper essence of nature and nature worship. Even though I came here incidentally, I realised that this is a place that celebrates light, an important ingredient for my medium. I was being pulled by the magnetic light of the fire mountain.

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24"x24" / 2008 - 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24″x24″ / 2008 – 2010

I started observing and visiting the town regularly. For almost twelve years I didn’t take any photographs, I was immersed into the mystical dimension of light. In the year 2011, I moved to Tiruvannamalai. ‘Photo’s of the gods’ is one of the earliest series (12 photographs) that I made in Tiruvannamalai. All the analog images of the ‘Photos of the gods’ series is taken along the 14km girivalam path. Everyday, I encounter these sculptures as mundane objects, but then these are owned and worshiped by millions of people. For me, ‘Photos of the gods’ series is a symbol of Dravidian culture and identity. It is not a philosophy but a dharshanam (visual culture) in Dravidian (pre-vedic / paganistic) society. May be, I am worshiping these forms at my subconscious level or I am using them as contemporary art objects for my art practice. Either way, it makes me feel that I am part of the pre-hindu (vedic) society and I look this images as a parallax of the culture…

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24"x24" / 2008 - 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24″x24″ / 2008 – 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24"x24" / 2008 - 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24″x24″ / 2008 – 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24"x24" / 2008 - 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24″x24″ / 2008 – 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24"x24" / 2008 - 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24″x24″ / 2008 – 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24"x24" / 2008 - 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24″x24″ / 2008 – 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24"x24" / 2008 - 2010

Photos of the gods / Archival pigment prints / 24″x24″ / 2008 – 2010

19th October 2014
Abul Kalam Azad

(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by TSL Nadar. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

Silence of the scream

The story of the ‘Book of the Red Hill’

Doodles from photographer Abul Kalam Azad 2010 - 2013 / Book of the Red Hill

Doodles from photographer Abul Kalam Azad 2010 – 2013 / Book of the Red Hill

The old man with a beard
Was always on time
Sipping tea
And brooding
Looking at the bubbling mass of people
Moving on road.

Sometimes 
I noticed more gray
In his beard
May be
Those days were harder on him

Sometimes 
I saw a little trace of smile
In those weary eyes

May be
He got a letter from his kids
Or may be 
Some long lost love.

Somedays
He was like a cloudy sky
Ready to burst in rain
Anytime 

Somedays
I could just feel the feeble sun
Barely there
But there.

The tea
And the old man
Sipped each other
Everyday 
And I 
Never got to know
The secret…

Doodles from photographer Abul Kalam Azad 2010 - 2013 / Book of the Red Hill

Doodles from photographer Abul Kalam Azad 2010 – 2013 / Book of the Red Hill

I am not trained to be a painter. I am a successful photographer and have been practicing photography for the last 35 years. I was living in Mattancherry, Cochin until 2010, working, gathering people and organising public art events in my studio ‘Mayalokam’. Although, it was a personal reason that urged me to leave Cochin, I believe metaphorically it was the right time to flow, as Imam Safi says, ‘flowing river is clean; stagnant water is dirty;’ Yes, there is comfort of the family and familiar surroundings, the certainty of material life and the blurred vision of the future… but at some point I had to move on. I called my friend Bawa Chelladurai, noted short story writer and mentioned my need to leave Cochin. He said in a friendly, understanding tone, ‘Comrade come to Tiruvannmalai… we will take care of you!!!’ I fondly recollected my first encounter with the Agni Shylam. Almost 20 years back, I was travelling to Pondicherry by bus. It was still dark. I was awakened by the voice of the conductor yelling, ‘last stop… get down!!’ I got down with my shoulder bag, booked a room and slept through the rest of the night. Morning I woke up to see a hill and wondered how come a mountain in Pondy!!! Too tired to ask anybody, I started walking around the mountain, seeing and feeling the different faces of the place I happened to be. I was inquisitive and the more I explored, the more I felt at home and ease. Since then I have visited Tiruvannamalai several times. Somehow, I was being pulled by the magnetic light of the fire mountain. I moved to Thiru early 2010. I left all my belongings behind including my precious cameras. I took my car Sophia and began my long journey to Tiruvannamalai from my hometown Mattancherry. At Thiru, I mostly spent my time in quiet contemplation, observing the town and the hill. Arunai Tea stall is one of my favourite spots. Sri Ramana Ashram, Yogi Suratkumar Ashram, Kannapan Nayanar temple and many places around Arunachala are the places I frequent. So is the whisky bars where locals hang. As an artist I am always keen on seeing the personalities beneath people’s surface appearances. I bought a small notebook from Ramana Ashram and scribbled the personalities / situations I come across. These life lines became a reservoir of my silent screams. I started sharing these doodles with my friends PP Sha Nawas (Journalist and independent writer) and Tulsi Swarna Lakshmi. I also started posting these images on facebook. Many a friends enjoyed this series and suggested a book. However, a book was never in my mind. After the formation of EtP (Ekalokam Trust for Photography), these images were shared on a regular basis by the office. Sunita Jugran, a young mother, an unknown upcoming poet came across these scribbles /doodles on facebook and started creating verses from these images… she actually found words to my silent screams… . these mundane images of my visual experience of Tiruvannamalai speak louder with Sunita’s poems. Many of my friends started talking about the verses, the strength of her words, its simplicity, and its spiritual dimension.

Doodles from photographer Abul Kalam Azad 2010 - 2013 / Book of the Red Hill

Doodles from photographer Abul Kalam Azad 2010 – 2013 / Book of the Red Hill

Doodles from photographer Abul Kalam Azad 2010 - 2013 / Book of the Red Hill

Doodles from photographer Abul Kalam Azad 2010 – 2013 / Book of the Red Hill

Doodles from photographer Abul Kalam Azad 2010 - 2013 / Book of the Red Hill

Doodles from photographer Abul Kalam Azad 2010 – 2013 / Book of the Red Hill

Doodles from photographer Abul Kalam Azad 2010 - 2013 / Book of the Red Hill

Doodles from photographer Abul Kalam Azad 2010 – 2013 / Book of the Red Hill

Doodles from photographer Abul Kalam Azad 2010 - 2013 / Book of the Red Hill

Doodles from photographer Abul Kalam Azad 2010 – 2013 / Book of the Red Hill

 

EtP has decided to print limited edition serigraphy books featuring my doodles and Sunita’s poems… The book titled ‘Book of the Red Hill’ will feature 60 doodles and poems. Thank you Sunita, for discovering words for my deep silence.

18th October 2014

Tiruvannamalai

(C) All rights reserved. All the images published in this blog is copyrighted property of  contemporary Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad. Text transcribed by TSL Nadar. Poem (C) Sunita Jugran. Reprinting / publishing rights reserved by the author and prior permission is required for reproduction / re-publishing, For more information call {0}4175 237405 / {0}94879 56405  or mail to ekalokam@gmail.com / FACEBOOK – Abul Kalam Azad 

Portrait of Maharishi

Portrait of Maharishi / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad  2014 / Archival pigment prints

Portrait of Maharishi / Photography (C) Abul Kalam Azad 2014 / Archival pigment prints

 

Sri Ramana Maharishi, born Venkatrama Iyer came to Tiruvannamalai on 1st September 1896. He was born in Tiruchuzhi, Madurai in the year 1879.  In his 17th year, while he was in his birth place, a remarkable experience as if undergoing death of the physical body while remaining in full consciousness became the turning point in his life. Following the transformation, he left his home and was drawn irresistibly to the sacred hill of Arunachala. He never left the hill. In the ashram which was formed around him, he taught the purest form of Advaita Vedanta (non-duality) through the supremely simple discipline of Self-Enquiry. Ramana Maharishi’s creative conscious also included photography and his acceptance and interest in the medium encouraged many photographers to take several pictures of Ramana. 

Yesterday (24th September) was my 50th birthday and my family was invited for the ‘birthday biksha’ at Sri. Ramana Ashram. Yesterday  was the first day of Navaratri as well. As I was waiting for my family to come, I saw the glowing life size black granite sculpture of Ramana. It was shining, reflecting the eleven o’clock sun. This particular sculpture was made by the great  traditional Indian tenple architect and builder Sri Ganapati Sthapati, when Ramana Maharishi was alive . After the sculpture was made, one of the inmates asked Ramana Maharishi, “Does this look like you…?” Ramana Maharishi replied, “Only two persons will know that…. the Sthapati and my barber….”. I remembered this story. I looked again to check whether there is any similarity. I have never seen Ramana Maharishi alive, but have seen several images of this legendary saint. I thanked Ganapati Sthapathi for this marvelous stone portrait.

Ramana Ashram, Tiruvannamalai

24th September 2014