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Visual identity

"India is the inspiration, it is ingrained in the psyche," says artist and photographer Syed Saleem Arif Quadri, a Hyderabadi settled in London

— Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

PAINTING, FOR me, is a self-discovery, says Syed Saleem Arif Quadri, a Hyderabadi settled in the United Kingdom. In fact he has not severed his roots despite living in Britain for many decades. His trips to India help to know, understand and document the rich cultural heritage. By living in Britain and travelling in the West, he has seen best of both the worlds. "I feel a universal human being," says this artist who has had exhibitions in galleries abroad and whose works are in private collections too. When he was in Hyderabad the artist held a slide show, which provided some glimpses of his oeuvre.

After completing matriculation in Hyderabad, Quadri went to the U.K. with his father, who was a doctor. As a teenager, life was very different there, and this in a way unconsciously crept into his early works.

Quadri has some art in his genes - his mother used to paint on old vinyl records. He studied art in the Royal College and then pursued it seriously.

Dante's Inferno had an impact on this artist. In fact, it made him look at ways to depict the Divine Comedy. "The theme of heaven and hell is universal - each culture talks of this. I was brought up on Sufi literature, which is rather similar to Dante's work. I read books by Dorothy Sayers and Miguel Palasins (Islam and the Divine Comedy) besides seeing images (sculptures too) by various artists and travelled around Italy. So for about five-seven years I read whatever I could and painted the Divine Comedy," says Quadri.

Subsequently his canvas widened. Quadri states he explores "two crucial visual ideas in his works: volumetric space (i.e. space conceived without gravity inspired by international space travel, in particular the magnificent walk in space) and pregnant space (space perceived for contemplation, reflection and beyond). These visual concerns are at the core of my work; they complement and enhance a variety of themes in various media."

These ideas are exemplified in Birds of Breath and other works. Another theme he has taken is Contemplation. "One does not know what God is, he says" and so far he has painted a few images (mostly calligraphic in nature) in double sheets." 9/11 too kindled his creative stimulus and he did something inspired by this incident and New York's long avenues. Sanctuary of Splendour (Krishna, God of Love) is another work, which has an erotic element.

Creating textures and reinventing a fresh and unique format is Quadri's forte. "Texture is important. I see textures and colours in nature and through forks and bubble packs create it on blackboards covered with muslin."

The Birds of Breath is his seminal work. Made in acrylic and sand on wood, the `cut out' birds are invisible in physicality but present in depth. Moreover, each bird is so carved and cut that one sees them at different vantage points. Indian motifs like the fish, cow, conch shell and others are predominant in Quadri's works.

"India is the inspiration, it is ingrained in the sub-conscious and psyche and surfaces in my work," says Quadri who travels to various parts of the country. He has held exhibitions at Art Heritage, Cymroza (Mumbai) and Sarla (Chennai) Art Galleries, which provided him opportunities to interact with Indian artists.

The artist is an avid photographer. His passion for documenting artists and living traditions of Indian culture (including folk as well) is realised through photographs. As Quadri says: the camera is a tool towards seeking the magic in something around and beyond me - from within the inner eye behind the lens. Colours in cultures and textures in time - both natural and man-made have caught my attention and imagination to seek a universal identity. Indeed, photography for me is one of the doors that leads to self-education, self-discovery and self-discipline."

Quadri is a visiting lecturer in universities in London. He works with children when he is an artist-in-residence or during exhibitions. "During exhibitions I have a readymade audience and I talk to people."

"Art is about visual ideas. How successful you are in visual ideas is what counts and not the money aspect. One can be famous after death. At times the impact is greater after death - for instance, Van Gogh," concludes Quadri.


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