“Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see”
– Martin Luther King, Jr

An intuitive and sensitive artist, Shibu Arakkal has been behind the lens for over a decade. From Images of Europe to Abstract Notions and Skin, Shibu has exhibited his photographic works extensively. Old monuments, nature and human skin are some of the subjects that have fascinated him, and he has captured them from a unique perspective. A single feature that stands out in the visuals that he has created over the years is that they are no ordinary photographs. Each image comes alive with Shibu’s innate artistic sensibilities. The banal is transformed into a magical realm. Every image is not a mere snapshot in time, but a visual poetry that is a revelation, and is thought provoking. With time, Shibu has increasingly turned from figuration to abstraction, and in the past some of his photographs printed on canvas have been mistaken for abstract paintings.

In this series Feeling Absence, Shibu embarks on an exploratory journey where the subject is absent, literally, and the shadows become the dominant feature. On the surface, the shadows point towards a fleeting, elusive and often intangible reality. But, when viewed closely the poignancy evoked by these visuals propels it into a metaphysical state. This series is perhaps the most lyrically evocative work that he has done so far as it opens up boundaries that lead to a transcendental plane. Beyond aesthetics. A spiritual quest that forces one to pause and think, to probe and search for a higher consciousness. In his own words, “The work tries to explore the significance of our life on this planet and our constant inability to realize that real wisdom does not have much to with intelligence but what one decides to do with it”.

These recent images are smaller in format in a deliberate attempt to draw the viewer through rich textures and thereby create a more intimate interaction. Another thread of commonality that runs through these works is the absence of human form. This in turn heightens the sense of desolation and loss, nostalgia and yearning. The presence of scarred rocks, twigs and leaves is felt but not seen. Shadows of a chair, a bottle and a bell are a powerful allusion to human absence. And, the absence of colour and form in the visuals has an almost disquietening effect. A symbolic reference to the past, which is now lost. The juxtaposition of several images on a single frame enhances the expressiveness of the composition.

Reality as we know ceases to exist. The physicality is replaced by shadows and you rely on your inner eye to perceive and experience the ephemeral. Absence – physical, emotional or material creates a chasm that cannot be seen or analysed, but can only be felt. Deeply. And, here too, in Shibu’s imagery one can feel and empathise, while being forced to respond spontaneously to a quest for the emancipation of the self.

Nalini S Malaviya

Bangalore | 2009

Nalini S Malaviya is an art columnist for Bangalore Mirror and Financial Times, Delhi and Bangalore editions. She has written extensively on art for leading newspapers and magazines such as Times of India, Femina and Matters of Art. Nalini blogs at www.indianartscene.blogspot.com.

Shibu ArakkalFeeling Absence – Introduction