Zakkir Hussain's work documents the culture of cruelty

103°C Yellow Fever is a rude shock. It is so blatantly violent and absolute that one is forced to question the system that it so ruthlessly decimates. The artist's portrayal of our country in shades of blood and brutality under the weight of a consistent yellow tone is effective.

Walter Benjamin said there is no document of civilisation which is not at the same time a document of barbarism; Zakkir Hussain in this show documents this ‘culture of cruelty' which has increasingly become India.

In this exhibition Hussain discusses ‘people's exile' in their own country, symbolised by the recurring image of people running over a bridge with roots attached to them. The image of an abattoir with rows of naked, decapitated female bodies hanging from clothes hangers jolts you.

“I have just explored the reality of our country,” says Hussain in his defence. He confronts the viewer through the torsos of the female bodies. “ You see things in yellow, which represents the monolithic cultures that have been imposed on us,” says the artist from Kerala.

His studio is based in Mattancherry, Kochi . The area more popularly called Jew Town is a site of confluence for culture which has inspired Zakkir, “It is a place of gatherings, incidents and images.”

His thought process begins with the news. “I start with an idea picked up from a news story and according to the demand of the painting, the visual approach changes.” .

All his works are connected and one spills over into the other, violence and unrest being his leitmotif. He takes pressing issues such as the Godhra riots, and makes them the subject of his canvas.

One of Hussain's paintings show the outline of India and a lotus being swallowed whole by the Gujarat region of the country, and in another sketch we see a serpentine tongue emerging from the same region.

“My work has no linear narrative, it all depends on the human imagination,” explains Hussain. The female form inspires this artist in a way that is tragic in its poignancy. He draws on the concept of woman as earth, and how earth and woman have become a part of exploitation. Hussain has exhibited his works widely across the globe in Vienna, Madrid, New York and Dubai.

His international audience is very receptive to his work, “It was unbelievable how well they understood my work,” he says. He refers to Gerard Richters' series of paintings titled “18 October 1977”, which are repainted photographs of the Baader Meinhof and says, “He concentrated on his time, took images from there and recreated it and they became international.”

The artist considers himself an observer of life and treats his imagination like a laboratory, although he has not always had it this easy.

When he was still a struggling artist he used to take tuitions for children and young adults in art. The artist who also has a keen interest in photography takes images of life and symbols of the system, which also inspires him in his work.

103°C Yellow Fever is on at the Gallery Skye, No.2 Berlie Street, Langford Town. Call: 65951972/ 41120873

Keywords: Zakkir Hussain