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Colours of CONFLICT

Yusuf Arakkal, the only Indian artist invited to the fourth edition of International Biennale of Contemporary Art, is looking forward to the event in Florence.

Yusuf's work is inspired by Pablo Picasso's masterpiece, Guernica.

"THE INVITATION was most unexpected," says Yusuf Arakkal. "I am not aware how they selected or tracked me. All I know is that they have an international committee with some 50 qualified members who decide which artists are to be invited."

Yusuf is naturally on a new high. As the only Indian artist invited to the fourth edition of International Biennale of Contemporary Art, he is looking forward to packing his bags and boarding the flight to Florence, this winter. The event is expected to draw no less than 800 artists from more than 70 countries who would bring with them their most recent works — be it a painting, sculpture, graphic art, digital art, mixed media work, installation, or photography.

This edition, which seeks to pay homage to Restoration Laboratories Of The Vatican Museum, is being organised at the historical Fortezza da Basso from December 6-14. In collaboration with the United Nations, the Biennale is also an official participant in the Dialogue Among Civilization Programme. The dialogue, in words of the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, is an opportunity for people of different cultures and traditions to know one other better, whether they live on opposite sides of the world or in the same street.

The Biennale is a cultural and not a marketing event. The 800 artists who will congregate in Florence during the nine-day event would exchange views, compare techniques, and experiences with other artists, critics, and the general public.

"I received the invitation some six months ago," says Yusuf. "And immediately it set me thinking about the work I should create and carry to the Biennale." After careful thought and intense research, he decided that the image should convey his concern about the overpowering manifestation of human conflict worldover. His search for a universal symbol led Yusuf understandably to the work of the Spanish master Picasso, whose "Guernica, that eternal saga of human conflict, provided a gripping inspiration to me".

The base of Yusuf's work is Guernica, which dates back to April 26, 1937, when a massive air raid by the German Luftwaffe on the Basque town of Guernica in northern Spain shocked the world. Hundreds of civilians were killed in the raid, which became a major incident of the Spanish Civil War. The bombing prompted Picasso to painting his masterpiece. The painting became a timely and prophetic vision of the Second World War and is now recognised as an international icon for peace.

Despite the enormous interest the painting generated in his lifetime, Picasso obstinately refused to explain Guernica's imagery. Guernica has been the subject of more books than any other work in modern art and it is often described as the most important work of art of the 20th century, yet its meanings have to this day eluded some of the most renowned scholars.

And so, Yusuf worked section by section, allowing his image to emerge gradually but intensely. "At the same time, in order to understand it better, I began to study other conflicts in recent history and compiled their images, gleaning various media sources and assimilating them along with actual details from Guernica."

The effort took nearly three months to conclude. The end result, War, Guernica Re-occurs — a triptych with each panel expanding to a size of 8 ft. by 3.5 ft. — was put on a preview recently at the Gallerie Sara Arakkal. As one watches the painting, it becomes clear that Yusuf seems to extend his now familiar work Gujarnica (on the catastrophe in Gujarat) to a global context.

The elements of pain, agony, and human suffering, as represented in both the paintings, have similar connotations and expressions. Thus, what the viewer gets to see are dark figures — young and old, male and female victims of conflicts. With shadowed faces and crouched stance, they are portrayed in varying postures and positions — sitting, standing, squatting, weeping, and praying.

In the background, are snatches from Guernica where human figures with upraised arms, shrieking faces are complemented by animal forms in the form of slain bulls and screaming horses. Interspersed are scattered shreds of newspapers and pamphlets indicative of the unfortunate and painful incidents that occurred in the past and threaten to recur in future — here, there, and everywhere. There seems to be a deafening silence ingrained in the work as one watches the mute victims. One is also drawn to the use of different hues of blue and lingering snatches of light in an otherwise agonisingly stark image. Relief comes in the form of a little candle. Flickering silently but bravely, it stands out as a small but significant symbol of hope worldwide, India, Iraq, or Italy.


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