The following text is an excerpt from Anushka Rajendran’s catalogue essay to accompany the exhibition of Abul Hisham organized by Marc Jancou Contemporary and hosted by the Art Kiosk, Rougemont in the winter of 2023.
Abul Hisham’s works emerge from and return to Thrissur, Kerala, where he grew up helping his father at their family-owned shop that sold art supplies to students from the nearby art school, one which he would eventually attend. With such proximity to a local arts context in one of the most politically aware parts of India, which despite being isolated from widely regarded art movements and legacy institutions in the country gave rise to artists of considerable note, Hisham was perhaps always aware of the role of an artist within social and political configurations. It was perhaps this awareness that led him to identify, early on in his life, with minor actors in the theatre of the everyday that would unfold before him on the streets as he watched from the window of his father’s shop. Projecting aspects of his own interiority onto their visages and gestures, his studies of the real people he encountered—those he perceived as often overlooked or invisible—are endowed with humanity and elegance in the face of the struggles they are presented with.
The core of Hisham’s practice lies in his ability to tell stories, almost as if he zooms into singular figures within the social fabric that has been the subject of the narrative painting tradition one expects from the Baroda School—an influential group of artists who studied at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda and were part of the landmark exhibition A Place for People (1981)—and the mythological preoccupations of the indigenous mural tradition specific to Kerala. This staccatoed departure from narrative painting allows Hisham room to contemplate the unconscious motivations and resignations of his subjects, so that each of them may emerge as fully realised protagonists of their own lives.
Anushka Rajendran is a writer and curator based in New Delhi.
The full text can be found in the exhibition catalogue of Abul Hisham which can be pre-ordered at firstname.lastname@example.org