Abul Hisham: “My paintings are sequences”
Abul Hisham: “My paintings are sequences”
At the exhibition Residency 2021-2022 of the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam I saw the work of Abul Hisham. It reminded me of my trip in the 1990s when I visited South India with a group. This included the state of Kerala and the beautiful cities of Trivandrum, Cochin, and Madurai.
It also reminded me of the Mughal paintings with Indian people and animals, often in miniature form. I saw similar images on one of the two memory walls in the studio of Abul Hisham.
For the first time outside of India
On a Monday afternoon I visit him in his studio at the Rijksakademie. He tells me he's been in his new studio for nine months. He is outside India for the first time for a longer period of time. He has kept his studio in his hometown of Thrissur. He still has a year to go in Amsterdam and already he can notice several changes in his work and his way of working.
He started sculpting here, he did very little in India. And he started using a new material: sand urethane powder. In the period 2009 to 2021 he already used a kind of lime, dirty lime, and here he found very fine sand with which he can paint - also in color. Abul: "It is actually dust and I find that very appropriate. Both in the Bible and in the Qur'an it is written: 'From dust you are, and to dust you shall return.' And he paints here on wood, which is also new.
He even made a 3D work, a religious landscape with dome and grave, partly destroyed, with wood and the black sand-like paint. "It looks fragile, also feels it can crack or collapse." It is a collage of a hindu temple and Mosque. The temple and mosque has collapsed and partly turned into black dust. Graves can be seen. The colonization of India over the centuries can also be seen, if you look well.
What is his work about? Abul: My body of works intended to explore the notions of Desire, Death and Memory. These three points have its own profundity and contain several layers and I am interested in how it is intertwined with the social and cultural space that I am living. I am concerned about the role of an artist as an observer in this spaces. My motivation for me is always evolving from the socio-political cultural space and personal narratives. I use personal mythology sometimes as a tool to expose those. Cinema & pop culture, art history, mythology & religion are my reference points. India has a long tradition of storytelling in art and literature. It is one body, made by many individual writers and artists. I can lean on it.”
His paintings are sequences, he says. “An excerpt of an absurd endeavour, an emotional dilemma, a scene in an act, dialogue between people, and so on. They often have elements of dark humour with the characters in these sequences pointing towards the spectator and asking questions or giving them a leeway. I enjoy the process of designing sequences. It's a space of complete freedom. The things that are otherwise debarred are permitted in this space. Sometimes the work is a culmination of various strong emotional collisions at that point of that time. I enjoy the process of allowing the viewers to decipher many metaphors and symbols for themselves – be they mythological, religious, political, media driven or personal.”
Abul is interested in his personal myth. In his earlier work there is a lot of reference to mughal painting. "It comes from Persian miniature, in the period 16th to 18th centuries. You see whole stories. Battles, legendary stories, hunting scenes, wildlife, royal life, mythology, as well as other subjects have all been frequently depicted in paintings. The elephants were used, among other things, to wage war." There is also a painting by Abul of an elephant on the wall. He has a broken tusk, probably from fighting. At the top you see a sharp rusted hook used to control elephants. If you look carefully you can see an engraving on the rusted plate of a priest.
Priests and pilgrimages
He also paints lawyers and priests. "When I came here in Amsterdam, I got opportunity to see great master’s works. Especially the early renaissance. In my works itself a new world of imagery started getting shape. My palette of colors slowly started changing, new elements started appearing. I feel to make paintings of priests connected to many socio political conflicts, for me they are the communicators and translators.” His own brother went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. It can be seen in a smaller painting and a larger one. In the last work titled ‘Father, son and the holy desk’ you see the three phases of life: boy, young man, and the end phase of life. There is also 'the holy table' on display. "It's the same table you see in a religious school. I went to such a school. I learned Arabic from there. At the bottom right there is Abul’s own daughter, Aysha, to be seen, with a doll. “I wonder, how will she grow up? What will become of her (and of the world)?”
Change the viewer
In 2010, Abul graduated from the Art Academy in Thrissur and obtained a master's degree in art in Hyderabad in 2012. In 2010 he had his first solo show in Cochin, at the Kashi Gallery. He considers himself seriously working as an artist from the year 2010. He continues another year at the Rijksakademie. It will remain a year of discoveries and experiments. When he's done, he doesn't go straight back to India, he goes wandering around Europe.
Finally, what is his philosophy: Abul: "How do you become a better person? If you can change yourself, you may also be able to change the viewer of your work. I want to thank teachers, friends and supporters for inspiring and helping.”
1) Player with a broken racket, mixed media on wood, 2022, 2) Portrait of a lawyer, mixed media on wood, 50 x 34 cm, 2022, 3) Departure I, mixed media on board, 24 x 28 cm, 2022, 4) Departure II, mixed media on board, 40 x 36 cm, 2022, 5) Pilgrim, acrylic & crackle paste on wood, 20 x 12 x 3 cm, 2022, 6) Saint with a fossil, mixed media on board, iron, marbles and urethene powder, 2022, 7) Dome, mixed media on wood, 14 x 12 x 2 cm, 2022, 8) Reader, mixed media on wood, 24 x 28 x 3 cm, 2021, 9) Man with two bears, acrylic and papermache on canvas, 20 x 20 cm, 2022, 10) Father, Son & the Holy Desk, acrylic on linen, 183 x 122 cm, 2022, 11) portrait Abul Hisham, 12 - 13) sculpture piece, 14) creature, 15) overview studio