Landscape of the body…in a language of silence

“You never know someone until you step inside their skin and walk around a little.”
– Harper Lee / To Kill a Mockingbird

Shibu Arakkal has been described by his mentor, Rafique Sayed, as one who has the heart of a painter and the mind of a photographer; a potent combination for a young photographer, who can create his own universe.

Over the last decade, Shibu has worked on several series of photographs which have evidenced this urge to create a personal universe. His sharp eye, instinct and insight have continually unraveled hidden spaces within historical monuments and travel sites; as importantly, it has captured the significance of ordinary objects in an uncommon way. Shibu’s solo shows have proved his ability to probe and experiment, and move freely from figuration to abstraction.

His exhibition titled ‘Off the shadow’ (2001) saw Shibu present a sequence of evocative visuals, soft in their nudging but forceful in their vocabulary. ‘Been there’ (2005) – a collage of images, presented as a travel story of near and far-flung lands – offered glimpses of truly felt moments in their variegated forms, spaces and colours. In the series on ‘Abstract Notions’ (2006/2007), Shibu poetically captured the real and surreal views of everyday objects, highlighting their lyrical presence, and encompassing rhythms.

With ‘Skin’, the young photo-artist seems to have scaled yet another creative peak. In this series, Shibu explores the landscape of the body through a language of silence. A two-year engagement with the subject has shown his commitment and connection with skin: its forms and textures, its colours and shades, its flourishes and deliberations.

The skin, literally and metaphorically, holds many secrets. It entices Shibu to enter a mystifying world. As it unravels its mystery and magic to the artist with probing eyes and inquiring mind, he becomes an entrenched traveler, a dispassionate observer and a meticulous impressionist of its inexplicable forms, meanings and engagement.

The resultant images bring to life the essence of the skin, its pores, layers, patterns, fissures, and the sensation of touch. Even its inconsistencies and imperfections enter the realm of Shibu’s visual narrative and take a poetic resolve. In these pictures, one can perceive the awesome physicality of the skin, as well as its forceful interpretation.

Shibu has, over the years, developed a unique style of employing multiple, recurring and uniquely blended images and motifs in his work. Thanks to ingenious and cultured interventions, his skin pictures too absorb technical feats with aesthetic sensibility, bringing sensual and spiritual dimensions to his work.

Shibu’s images of the skin thus open up possibilities of multi-layered reading and enjoyment. They provoke thoughts and feelings, ideas and imaginings.
Looking at these thought-provoking skinscapes, one realizes that he is trying to do the same thing what Harper Lee extols in her fascinating novel about killing a mockingbird.

Giridhar Khasnis

Art Writer
Bangalore | 2008

Shibu ArakkalSkin – Foreword