Abdul Karim makes appliqué art with tailoring waste

Slivers of cloth come together to make a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, each piece painstakingly pasted on chart paper. To Abdul Karim this is ‘cloth painting’.

A certificate given by the Government of India’s textile ministry calls it textile appliqué work. Unlike appliqué there is no sewing involved. The artist, Abdul is thrilled about the recognition for this novel art. For him this is the result of a desire to interpret art differently. Karim talks about his work with a lot of pride. He says, “I did not want to do what everybody else was doing.”

His involvement with art started with make-up. While doing his graduation in laboratory technician’s course in Chennai, Karim learnt his trade from his roommate and friend, who was a make- up artist.

He came to Kerala in the mid 70s and used to do make-up for theatre actors. “I used to use unconventional materials – such as brick powder – to get the desired effect. Today I have an extensive make-up kit to help me.” He also does the make-up for groups singing Christmas carols.

Work took him to West Asia where he worked as a lab technician for close to two decades. He returned four years ago. He was principal at a college for laboratory technicians in Irinjalakuda. “I have been part of various art shows there. For one show I exhibited art work made of tissue paper – bouquets, flowers, even an impression of a street.” Experimenting has always been a part of his creativity, he is also adept at sewing. “I taught my wife how to sew.”

He has always painted, but ‘cloth painting’ evolved out of his wish to find an alternative means of artistic expression. The terrace of his house in Edavanakad serves as his studio. Surrounded by a school on three sides, his work space is cacophonous. But he says he likes it. He has hung up his works. There is Gandhi, landscapes, a portrait of Sachin – “I don’t like cricket but I made him because he is in the news.”

On a table there is a half-finished work. Next to it is a box full of cloth. “Most of it is tailoring waste which I get from the tailoring shop next door. I mostly get all colours, the rest I buy.” He uses cotton cloth as it sticks better.

There is a glitzy portrait of a cabaret dancer, with gold sequins giving the bling effect. Each work takes four or five days sometimes up to a week. The work is painstaking; each shade needs cloth of a different colour. “For portraits like Gandhi’s I refer to pictures. For others it is based on my imagination.”

He hopes to participate in the forthcoming Kochi Muziris Biennale since it opened the window to various media of artistic expression. In the meanwhile he is waiting for news on his ‘painting’ of Gandhi which has been sent to New Delhi for consideration for a national award in the category of textile art by the Ministry of Textiles’ Thiruvananthapuram office.

He was asked to do a demonstration of how the painting is done, by the department. “They saw potential in it and told me that it has been some time since they sent in an entry of this kind.”

There have been enquiries from prospective buyers, “I told them to wait. I want to first hold an exhibition of my works.” The exhibition is slated to be held in March.