The multi-dimensions of Man, Complaining Man II by Abul Hisham – 2018
Updated: Apr 5, 2020
Complaining man 2 by Abul Hisham – Soft Pastels and Bindis on Paper
I, the silent observer, am standing in front of this piece by Abul Hisham called the ‘Complaining Man II’, which is on display in Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke in Mumbai. Abul Hisham’s work draws heavily from the contemporary social environment, from the intricacies of our society, from the inherent nature of man and from nature. He mixes all these thought-provoking aspects into a medley of words, symbols, themes and colours and masterfully creates his work on canvas exposing the deepest secretive facets of humanity.
The painting “The Complaining Man II” help us tumble down an intriguing and thought-provoking rabbit hole world created on paper. To fully appreciate the depth of what we see in front of us I would like to deconstruct this painting into 2 parts –
The Outside World
The Inside World
The Outside World
The outside world in this painting, which lies beyond the solid black iron bars, is a world made of mountains, lakes, and the celestial night sky, a world where a beautiful and lush mountain landscape with its placid lake shines in the dim fluorescent light emanating from the stars. And, as we peer into the phantasmagorical sky created by the artist we can see, set on a beautiful starry night, the constellation of ‘SaptaRishi’ is faithfully and honestly pointing towards the north star and the celestial horse from the constellation of Pegasus gallops ceaselessly across the sky.
In the outside world, time is fluid, it is has a surreal elasticity to it. Outside the iron bars, time is of no consequence to the stars because, for them, time exists on such a large time scale, stretched to infinity, that it seems that it doesn’t exist at all. But, inside the iron bars time, a human construct originally devised and dreamed up to understand and make sense of the world around us, has become an intangible entity who has made us its slave.
The Inside World
A man sits behind a large cage, which looks and feels like a self-constructed jail cell. In this jail cell, the black iron bars separate him from the outside world. The floor on which he sits is also reminiscent of a penitentiary. This creates a clear distinction between ‘the outside’ and ‘the inside’.
He has an almost empty bottle of palm toddy next to him suggesting the inebriated state that he is in. His mouth is open and his eyes are rolled back. His neck is decked with chains and other religious paraphernalia. In his alcoholic stupor, he seems as if he is in a contemplative mood. There are thought bubbles rising out of him, thought bubbles that look like round rocks, hard, rigid and unchanging. He sits there complaining, blissfully unaware of his own self created jail cell.
നാളെ (nale – tomorrow), ഇന്നലെ (innale – yesterday) , ഇന്ന് (innu – today) these are the words that the complaining man has written on the floor in the Malayalam language by breaking open a string of pearls, by breaking open something that was perfect and by laying them down on the floor. He has forgotten to live in the moment, he has forgotten to look outside at the beautiful world that has been created for him to enjoy and revel in. And instead, he is looking at time from that pettiest of human perspective, in the discreet chunks that we call yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Equally central in this painting are the ghostly figures and the peacock in the background. The ghostly figures, one fully veiled and screaming out in horror and anger and one partially veiled and desperately trying to escape, are a representation of the various aspects of the complaining man’s psyche. There is a sense of pessimistic hopelessness in the scary ghost and an optimistic buoyancy to the one that is trying to escape. The Peacock, I believe, is a representation of the coruscating character of ‘the outside world’, of nature and of life. It stands there in its awe-inspiring form, with its iridescent plumage fully open and for everyone to see. The peacock has long symbolised guidance, knowledge and spiritual awakening. Thus one sees that the complaining man is tempted by many forces such as that of a narcotic and suppressive slumber, a warm engendered awakening and an aggrieved and exasperated protest.
And thus, for me, this painting ‘The Complaining Man II” is a melange of layers created out of words, expression and symbols to mete out an allegorical commentary on the contemporary society that we live in, a commentary on our relationship with the natural world and a commentary on the variegated forces that act upon us.