Artist Zakir Hussain explores memory and trauma through Indian ink art

Zakir Hussain

Zakir Hussain

Most days, artist Zakkir Hussain stands in front of the window of his studio in Kadavanthra, Kochi, looking out at the backyard, which is filled with mango and drumstick trees. He often saw a sparrow flying to eat mangoes. It made him wonder: If trees were cut down in the name of development, would birds have any memory of the trees? Or if the sparrow dies, will the tree remember it? He transferred these questions to canvas and was depicted in a series of Indian ink paintings: Erased Stories.

“I like India ink because it’s risky,” he said, adding, “You can’t make tonal changes. Black or white are the only possibilities. One of the drawings shows a young woman, a man’s The hand clasped her left arm. Behind her eyes, a reflection of mother and child began, ending in a series of upside-down houses, like a clothesline.

“Through these houses, I wanted to show that women are sometimes forced to move from one place to another,” the 54-year-old said. The artist places a dog near her open mouth; as if the woman wants to speak but cannot. “She was going through inner trauma and couldn’t express herself verbally because society wouldn’t allow her,” Zakir explained.

Another image shows a young woman holding a branch that pierces her palm. A sparrow sat on a branch. Another image is of a bird with its beak tied with a rope. Zakir’s universe is almost as crowded with people and discarded objects as an imaginary slum. The house seems to be a recurring metaphor in his work, representing insecurity and social conventions.

“I highlight social tensions through my art and develop a new language,” says the artist, who draws inspiration from Santiniketan artists such as Somnath Hore, Benode Behari Mukherjee, Ramkinkar Baij and KP Krishnakumar.

His empathy embodies ideological tendencies. Zakir has been interested in art since childhood, and while still in college, his first works revolved around left-wing political slogans, inspired by the poetry of Pablo Neruda and Octavio Paz. “The social exchange of art excites me and the positive response to my paintings encourages me to do more,” says the artist, who studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram and MS University, Baroda. The combination of the organic and the inorganic holds a central place in his work, resonating with images of social and personal fragility that forever raise questions.

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