Photographer Abul Kalam Azad’s solo show titled ‘Contemporary heroines’, a portrait series of women in Mathilakam was was presented by Ekalokam Trust for Photography in the month of May 2015 as part of the Trikkana Mathialakam, Silappathikaram festival 2015. The show was organized at Mathilakam itself, in a traditional Kerala-style family house. Mathilakam is a small village in the Thrissur District of Kerala, India and is believed to be the Sangam period Trikkana Mathilakam or Gunawayil, which was an important cultural and Jain learning center. Historical evidence suggest that Ilango Adigal (2nd century CE), the ancient Tamil poet created the epic Silappatikaram while he was living in Trikkana Mathilakam.
This recent portrait series by Abul is a continuation of his popular and widely written Black Mother, part of Story of Love, Desire and Agony, a non-illustrative work based on the Tamil epic Silappathikaram. Having been a photographer for more than four decades, Abul’s works have been exhibited widely in India and abroad and given his background, this exhibition organized at the traditional family house ‘Parvathi Sathanam’ in Mathilakam, is unusual and challenged the prevailing norms of contemporary art practices in both content, form and presentation. The stark monochromic bromoil prints (32”x32”) from Black Mother I depict the ritualistic performance by oracles in Kodungallur Bhagawathy temple in Kerala. Local myth and historical texts say that the presiding deity is Kannagi – the heroine of the Silappathikaram. Every year, during Bharani Festival, these men and women oracles re-enact a scene from the epic which was originally told as folklore. The photographer presents the primordiality of the feminine form – the primitiveness of which is intense in these non-graphical analogue photographic prints.