Although somewhat unimaginable, images of various artworks taken from archaeological excavation sites can become an excellent work of art in itself. Images included in archeology photographer Mohamed’s current photography project. A, titled Buried Monologue Invoke a number of questions: How does archaeological data, otherwise an ordinary entity, become a source of beauty? Where does one put the artistic imagination that so seldom appears in the scheme of our thinking about history, in revealing Kerala’s past? While these are the main questions, there are many more such questions to pique one’s curiosity.
The pleasing tripartite relationship between three things – experience, information and aesthetics – is the best way to sum up the images in this project, which is part of the art show, Sea: a boiling ship. It takes place at Kashi Hallegua Art Gallery in Mattancherry, Kerala. Sea: a boiling ship. Presented by the Cochin-based art group Aazhi Archives, it is a multidisciplinary show that brings together artists, academics and performers to explore the unremarkable past and seamless future of Kerala.
Mohamed himself would like to describe the current project as “a purely academic intervention, but with a deep creative potential.” It unveils Kerala’s past through pictorial documentation of ancient inscriptions, rock art and other artifacts at various excavation sites in Kerala with which Muhammad has been associated over the past 15 years. Take pictures from Anakkara, Kadampuzha, Kakkodi, Parambathukavu and Pattanam and rock paintings from Edakkal, Tovari, Marayoor and Ettukudukka. As explained in the supporting text displayed in the setting, “It is a journey into our past and what remains of it. It is also about the exciting experience of the process of ‘unearthing the past’.”
The relatively recent fusion of data and aesthetics has spawned a plethora of interesting works, which in turn have opened up new areas of research in both the academic and artistic worlds. Buried Monologue He endorses this new interlocking ‘data aesthetics’ to bridge concerns about aesthetics and archaeological data. Data and artwork produced using data do not stand at two separate ends in the discourse, but rather the discourse addresses an explicit conflict between the objectivity of archaeological data and the subjectivity of artistic creation.
Likewise, for the images used in this exhibition, excavation is a process that reveals the ancient or early medieval history of Kerala as well as the sources of artistic production. Therefore, it becomes impossible for the artist to depict them without simultaneously capturing and deconstructing them.
Although Muhammad was formally a part of several archaeological excavations in Kerala, the images he used in this project do not arise directly from his ‘experience’ but from a filter over experience, which he himself likes to call ‘information’ (data ). It focuses on the plane of information, looking not just at history nor at the images made of it, but at the filters between the two.
Muhammad created a distinctive style, aiming not to directly present Kerala’s past as revealed through excavations, but to do so through selective disclosure of experience using artistic resources. Thus, in this project, what ‘official history’ considers to be merely an artist’s imagination or creative expression, objects are provided for an alternative imagination or re-imagining of history to capture. The project in fact raises an interesting question, should these images be treated as mere illustrative appendices to a history built on concrete archaeological evidence, or can they be allowed to provide a component to reimagining history from an artistic perspective.
Challenging the anthropocentric fiction of history by assuming that our past, present, and future are linked to a certain continuity of human experience, Muhammad gave a sense of agency to each artifact he photographed. The natural patterns of laterite and granite stones, for example, have been photographed, giving them the ability to tell their own stories. As CS Venkiteswaran, art critic and advisor-curator of the exhibition says, “These images – all very real but equally mysterious and enigmatic – take us on a journey that is material as well as abstract.”
Buried Monologue It also addresses gaps in visual knowledge of ancient and medieval Kerala rock art. The study of rock art as a visual record that reveals the relationship between its symbolic production and the experiences and motivations of its creator (both social and religious) has been an area of growing interest in the archeology of religious practices, although it remains to be. Relatively unfamiliar terrain in India.
Not much has been written or discussed about the system of social meanings created for the circulation of these symbols or detailed analyzes have been made about the practices and motives behind their production, especially in the context of Kerala. transcending the conventions of semiotics, Buried Monologue In understanding motives remains concern about the transience of humans and the immortality of things, and the ways in which humans leave civilization behind. This project also entails a profound move towards a form of production that breaks with the realistic conventions that come as a package with archaeological photography.
in Sea: a boiling ship Project, a separate part named Origin narratives It is included. This part includes topics such as creation and origin stories of societies, episodic and fragmentary reminiscences of societies’ pasts, shared concerns regarding the end of the world, contested tracts of divinity, travel texts, travelogues, performative occasions, etc.
In the act of telling the past through images of excavations and rock art, this project presents an alternative story of the origin and development of Kerala; how Kerala as a cultural and political entity became what it is now, how inbound and outbound journeys shaped it, and what the sea washed ashore in the form of objects And artefacts,” says Venketeswaran.
A Fine Arts graduate from the College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram, Mohamad never dreamed of archeology becoming his cup of tea. It was an assignment, covering megaliths spotted in the fieldworks of the Department of History, University of Calicut, in 2005 that changed his fate. Searching for possibilities of creative intervention and forging his own style in this academic endeavor ignited in part his passion for photographing a buried past.
“I gained further training through several trips across northern Kerala with Professor Selvakumar, a leading researcher of South Indian archeology, who was pivotal in turning me into a trained archeology photographer. The Pattanam excavations, which began in 2007, were A milestone in my career. Destiny kept some remnants of a bygone era underground, waiting to show my lenses to future generations,” Mohammed tells his journey so far.
The contributions he made to both Pattanam and Anakkara made him vital to the archaeological community of Kerala. “And Buried Monologue It happened when I wanted to bring archaeological photography to the boundless of the art within me. This combination has been seductive throughout my career as an archeology photographer,” explains Mohamed, how the idea for this project came about.
The offer started on December 13, 2022, and will run until April 30. It is open on all days except Mondays, and admission is free.
MH Ilias is Professor and Dean of the School of Social Sciences at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, Kerala.