It is Abul’s search for his own cultural roots that urged him to work for a protracted period on this epic. Born in a progressive Tamil Muslim family, Abul started traveling at a very young age. His quest took him to different lands across the country as well as he had a decade of exposure to the western world. Black Mother I done immediately upon his return to India was his probing into the origin of gods. Just before his return to India, he had done another series titled ‘Goddesses’. In this experimental body of work, Abul had collected sex call cards that are so common in soho, London, scanned and enlarged the image, and made hand sequence works on the precious silver gelatin prints. The cultural disparity between the nations he had traversed and the unsettling quest to find out the roots of this multi-faceted world order inspired him to start this two decade long project. “It is not yet complete”, says Abul, who plans two more intense body work based on the epic Silappathikaram.
Visual art works based on scriptures have for long been illustrative. Michelangelo’s work in Sistine Chapel and the Indian miniature painters are examples of this tradition. Black Mother I & II by contrast represents the contemporary society and its females, just as the characters in Silappatikaram is bound to have been derived from the immediate society of that age. The style of creating an independent body of photographic work based on an ancient cultural text is unique. The photographer opted to exhibit these prints in the very village in which they have been created, that too in a contemporary living space. Exhibiting in a contemporary living space had its own advantages and challenges. The large sized (4ft x 4ft and 3ft x 3 ft) archival museum quality prints were juxtaposed within the existing interiors of this family house. Natural sunlight flowing through the central open courtyard is the only lighting for the exhibits.
This lack of “eliteness” beckoned a more rural audience and indeed, most of the viewers were friends and families of the villagers, who came from far and near. Bill boards (120 ft x 180ft) of contemporary heroines were exhibited on the main roads and highway nearby, breaking into a landscape dominated by commercial advertisements. The repositioning of contemporary photo-art amidst the rural public is a welcome change. While most Indian art initiatives present photo-art as a viable commodity to the urban and international audience, here is an attempt in the right direction, paving the way for art to be rightly recognized as a symbol of one’s culture and as the property of the people.