Johny ML is an art historian, cultural critic and curator. Born in, Kerala, he has three post graduate degrees – Creative Curating, Art History & Criticism and English Language & Literature. He has curated numerous shows and is the founder editor of two online magazines on Indian contemporary art. He also directs documentaries on art, translates international literature into malayalam and is a blogger (http://johnyml.blogspot.in/).
In Abul Azad’s visual dictionary the word ‘still life’ is elaborated as follows: the objects related to and resulted by a person’s life and these objects are seen arrayed in a certain fashion as providence would suggest and these objects would remain in the same way as if they were caught in and frozen by time. Their stillness shows that the person who has caused such an arrangement is equally still or methodically careless.
Perhaps, the birth certificate of still life as an artistic genre, written in fourteenth century does not agree with what Azad’s not yet written dictionary says. Still Life as an artistic genre while capturing the beauty and mortality of life also highlighted the skill of the artists who excelled in this genre. Primarily a western religious artistic mode, Still Life became an unavoidable philosophical visual motif for many European artists during the renaissance and the years that followed. When it came to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Still Life had become a medium of scientific experiments in art, which later crossed over to the modes of conceptual installations.
Visit the percussionist, Harinarayanan’s room. What you find there is a total commotion of daily objects used or rendered useless by or even emblematized by the anarchist artist Harinarayanan. Azad trains his camera at these objects and the framing itself edits out the wanted from the unwanted. Unwanted here is the space as Harinarayanan occupies a space that is object infested; his tea glass which has not been washed for quite some time, empty cigarette packets, papers, cigarette stubs and so on. When the space is edited out by the eyes of Azad these objects assume the shape of a Still Life, which simultaneously speak of the life of Harinarayanan and narrates a story about the time in which he lives.
Like Harinarayanan, Azad too lives a life of a nomad, an eternal wanderer. While Harinaryanan travels in his subconscious through nicotine and alcohol or weed induced euphoria, Azad travels in the physical space constantly capturing the displaced images that create meaning out of ironic associations. Nomads are dangerous people as they defy settlement and refuse to enter the mainstream life. On the contrary the mainstream life protected by state is always watchful about the nomads who the state believes that are in a perpetual preparation of war against it. An anarchist and nomad who live within the mainstream society in that sense is a threat not because he causes physical danger to others but because his life style itself remains as a constant critique of the normative life values. It tends to threaten the complacency of the people who live in illusionary sense of conformity.
Harinarayanan is a percussionist par excellence. While percussion is mostly related to temple based classical art forms, Harinarayanan operates from outside the religious structures. He has always been a fellow traveler of other anarchists and creatively mad people like late filmmaker John Abraham. In Abraham’s hallmark movie, ‘Amma Ariyan’ (For Mother’s Information) Harinarayanan plays the role of a tabalist who commits suicide. His friends gather from different places and they together go to his mother’s place and slowly the mother becomes the leader of that pack of anarchists who in fact moves against the mainstream values of life. Harinarayanan’s character has become one with the character that he plays in the movie. A friend of many like-minded creative people, Harinaryanan still lives the life of a non-conformist in the city of Kozhikode.
When Azad captures the objects and presences in Harinarayanan’s room devoid of Harinarayanan’s physical presence, they in a way tell the story of the person who lives there. In the moments of revolt and self-induced pain and angst, Harinarayanan writes slogans of revolution on his walls. They remain like graffiti written by a revolutionary in exile. Though Still Life connotes the beauty of life and the imminent death, here in Azad’s vision, these photographic still lives emblematize the life of a person who refuses to die and prolongs his life through anarchistic life style and thinking. One cannot forget the lives lived by late John Abraham and A.Ayyappan or D.Vinayachandran, when we look at these photographs. When Azad registers the still life of Harinarayanan we feel how moving a life it is. At the same time that life poses before us a critique of our own lives.
There is a sense of strong identification between Azad and Harinarayanan. In his autobiographical series called ‘My Anger and Other Stories’ Azad brings out a series of still lives from his own life that has brought in anger and pain, love and denial in his own life. Harinarayanan in that sense becomes a surrogate for the artistic self, a character which could be interchanged in subtle ways. Azad’s spiritual seeking at Thiruvannamalai also gets reflected when Harinaryanan writes on his wall, ‘Who am I?’ Such resonances make this series worth pondering. In a sense, each photograph belongs to the genre of still life but the intentionality of the artist transcends it into the zones of documentation, biographical registration and a critique of life, rather than a caution about death.
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