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Beyond The Beautiful

The pictorial representation of a scattered ecosystem combined with agonising accounts of people’s lives in various places at varied times are what forms the crux of Zakkir Hussain’s work

A recent group exhibition of seven contemporary artists, Measures of Lucidity, curated by artist-curator Jitha Karthikeyan at Gallerie Splash, Gurugram, left us rethinking the chaos and to seek pellucidity in our lives, lest we lose ‘what is’ amidst the cacophony of it all. The show, which was an attempt to deconstruct the complexities that plague our existence, left us truly wondering: “Are we heading towards a tangled reality? Are we forgetting the plain and the simple that make up our life?” Though the show featured works of some of the finest contemporary artists in our country – Arpita Singh, George Martin P J, K M Madhusudhanan, Muktinath Mondal, Parvathi Nayar, T V Santhosh and Zakkir Hussain, it’s the Ernakulam-based Hussain, who needs special mention here. His artwork that seems visually charged and jolly bestowed with a sense of exuberance and dynamism from a distance, at a closer look, it’s a mixture of chaos and colour, and tries to go beyond the beautiful to the horror veiled by the fascinating presence of beauty. His works travel through forgotten memories and can be read as amputations of the history of visual representations.

“The pictorial representation of a scattered ecosystem combined with agonising accounts of people’s lives in various places at varied times are what forms the crux of my works, thereby also creating a poetic space,” explains the mixed media artist. In fact, the artist’s earlier works on paper and canvas offer viewers a colourful and fantasy-like take on the bond between humans and nature through his incorporation of a variety of images and influences. The artworks explore deeper ecological and imaginary links with subdued tones, and comprise primary, dominating metamorphosis-like creations set against calmer backgrounds. However, Hussain’s more recent works are quite the opposite. Not only are they more realistic, but he has made them deliberately aggressive to evoke various personal thought processes in the viewer. These works project a mixture of chaos and colour, and seek to engage with all the senses. His universe is dense with people, discarded objects, ghettoised spaces caught in an array of circumstances. He inserts a sort of tableau vivant in his works representing the struggle between the energies and impulses of human bodies and forces of social institutions exerting control over it. The excess of visual imageries in the surface of many of his works is an outcome of the intensity and simultaneity in which his politico-linguistic strategies confront multiple notions of realities. These visions are not fantasies, but are critical concerns that the artist recognises in the interstices of language in its intervals. Many of his works can be read as amputations of the history of visual representations as he recognises that history is the temporal marker of power. He searches for what is beyond the beautiful — the horror veiled by the fascinating presence of beauty. His works are anti disciplinary agents which travel through forgotten and forbidden memories, in the process of becoming the language of the unspeakable. “The human bodies in my works are grafted together with the bodies of animals, birds, trees, electric fans, dresses and other abandoned objects. Just like how a piece of cloth is sutured onto a torn cloth to make it complete, or even a piece of discarded rubber slippers is tied onto the broken pedal of a bicycle to make it usable,” he explains. “Though, togetherness of these leaves behind a visible and permanent scar just like a healed surgical wound on a human body, which I term as patch work. It appears in my work as an uncanny representation of bodies performing on discarded objects in an abandoned space.”

Hussain says they stigmatise the marked systemic ostracism in a dystopian space. “Moreover, the objects that we think are useless are conjoined with other objects and bodies, the intrinsic nature of the former being useless disappears. Such transfigured objects open up new dimensions of a forgotten world, which we might have never encountered before in our life,” he adds. Thus, the cohesion reflects the togetherness of trauma and uncertainties inflicted on nature and human life, which embodies the silenced documents of extirpation, the plight of people from place to place, female bodies bearing the complete weight of household chores and other conflicting images. “My works speak about these and the history of the rejected lives and its sign of imaginative documents. They both act as the source of my thought process that marks demographic violence and its traumas continuously masqueraded by the dominant systems and its apparatus,” Hussain informs. Language operates in his works mostly through subtraction, by the act of deforming everything that contains an element of power – in representation and in the represented. In that sense, many of these can be read as amputations of the history of visual representations. Perhaps one of the reasons for Hussain’s attempts to amputate (visual) history is his recognition that history is the temporal marker of power! He searches for the domain ‘beyond the beautiful’ which is not simply the ugliness of everyday objects, but the constitutive background of beauty itself, the horror veiled by the fascinating presence of beauty. But one cannot say that these acts are negative operations in as much as they already engage and set in motion positive processes.

Husain’s works are the declaration against the ordering of the world. They are anti-disciplinary agents, which travel through the forgotten and forbidden memories and histories. They are the marker of genealogy of abandoned historical memories, traces of silenced voices; an anthology of the ever- expanding terrain of sufferings – they are in the process of becoming language of unspeakable. The artist, who has won multiple awards for his work, including the All-India Fine Arts and Crafts Society Award for drawing in 2001, and the State Award from the Kerala Lalit Kala Akademi in 2000, was born in 1970, in the coastal village of Chandiroor, just outside Kochi in Kerala. In his formative years of involvement in art, the place and its theatre groups had a profound impact on his work style and his oeuvre. “The experimental theatres in my village gave me an immemorial space for creative pursuit in my life,” says Hussain, who earned a degree in painting from the College of Fine Arts, Trivandrum, in 1994, and Masters in Graphics from MS University, Baroda, Gujarat, in 1997. In the late 1980s, he joined Samskara, an alternative cultural centre in Eramalloor, aimed at promoting modern literature, art and diverse thinking process in the young. The exchange of ideas in his early youth with fellow artists and political activists opened spaces to engage with the multi layers of cultural representations. The extensive involvement of making political posters with his artist friends stimulated in him the relevance of depicting social and political languages in his works.