K Shereef is a creative artist, illustrator, writer, born in 1974 at Kuttyadi, Kozhikode, Kerala. Started his career as a freelance illustrator. He also has worked for the following magazines like Malayalam Literary Survey, Kumkumam weekly, Madhyamam weekly, Bhashaposhini monthly, Deshabhimani weekly, and Pachakuthira monthly etc. Currently he is working as a staff artist in Mathrubhumi weekly. He has the following publishers to his credit who has owned his book cover illustrations for their published works. They are Harper-Perennial, Amaryllis, Palimpsest, DC books and Mathrubhumi Books etc. Many of the poems and creative articles were also published in mainstream Malayalam journals.
Location: Gudhaam Art Gallery, Gujarati Street, South Beach, Kozhikode
Date: 1st – 10th April, 2021
Preview: 1st April, 2021 | 6pm
Inauguration: Shri. Seeram Sambasiva Rao, IAS, District Collector Kozhikode
The visual called poetry
A visual poet who breaks the convention of illustration, K Shereef, who initiated a new approach in illustration in the recent times, often provokes the readers to see a literary work from a different perspective. When illustration was something that supplemented the creative writing, Shereef introduced a style where the lines created a parallel text as an independent expression, with its own identity.
Though he does not have any formal education in painting or drawing, his power of imagination goes beyond our thoughts and feelings. When illustration is often wrongly considered inferior art, he places it on a higher pedestal and you will be able to see it as purely artistic expression independent of text. If you move from the text to the illustration, he creates based on that, you enter an altogether different world that is often startling and painful. Then, when you come back to the text, it becomes a new experience, and this is how he questions the notions that an illustration is a visual supplement. For Shereef, art is a visual trigger reflecting a darker reality that takes you to a new creative journey. Literature is just the catalyst. He gets his images, which are often grim, from his personal experiences and transform them to another reality that has a psychedelic plane to it. He does not create complex images. He churns out singular images that carry lots of complexity within. There is nothing unusual about the motifs he chooses, but the way he presents it, often in a raw manner, pierces the viewers, creating a new aesthetics. There is an invisible element here that comes to the fore when you see it deeply, without trying to approach it as a literary creation. A poet who has published poems and notes in many mainstream Shereef create a new genre of illustration that is not literary. It is unadulterated visual with a political undertone that touches the innards of humanity.
P Sudhakaran (Artwriter, translator and journalist)
Ghosts of intimate imagination on K Shereef’s illustration
K. Shereef makes a lot of grim diminutive sketches, drawings, paintings and collages in an intimate manner. In spite of doing plenty of illustrations on a regular basis for mainstream Malayalam media, his two decades long artist’s life has not yet assumed a garb so called as ‘Artist’. That is perhaps because he did not count the art galleries and their niche industries as his forte. When Shereef displays his ‘art works’, they also carry his many lives as illustrator, columnist, poet, sometimes a politically alert citizen, some other times as somebody who encounters life by chance!
Generally, Shereef’s works enliven the commonplace rubbish-ness of life in some ignored margins. The surfaces he creates in art are not repeated as if they are motifs of some other bigger drama outside of them. When surfaces are created or cut and then pasted in pieces as they are, a curious assemblage of meaning emerges from materials of life. This occurs with an intense graphic quality. So, I often liked to think of him as a graphic author, considering also his referential triggers from multiple sources.
Shereef is a self-taught person in art. His pictorial language looks ‘chance-found’ and that works in a regional culture industry’s format. Yet I feel that Shereef’s language of art somehow emerged as a linkage for Malayali media-culture industry with certain regional history of Indian contemporary art.
In 1990s, before art markets opened wide in this part of the world, artists especially those trained in fine arts colleges in Kerala had acquired a particular language of making charcoal / ink drawings. An assorted template from European masters and modernists like Brueghel, Max Beckmann or Kitaj triggered the visuals in their sketchbooks. Men, women, fish, swords, lizards, halos, trees, pots and many such images in their sketching sheets worked as symbolic allusions to the life of labourers, the loners, desolate landscapes, the dreamers and such simple inhabitants of some place or the other. In 1980s, they were rearing themselves up from this region as ‘radical artists’. Shereef does not practically belong to such ethos in any manner. Their ethos acquired some amount of local coinage through his illustration s in 2000s.
Radical ethos once had very little to do with the mainstream art practices in the country. In the wake of globalisation, some artists worked a great deal to bridge the gap. But In the process, their inventory of images had also transformed. Desolate landscapes shed off ‘the quotidian’ and assumed a sort of extra-terrestrial impersonal tones of detailing and design.
Many young artists from Kerala met with bleak human situations in a majoritarian country in the making, but with not so bleak attitude. But there are artist-humans like Shereef who were freshly haunted by some ghosts of intimate imagination, not really bothering about the gap of tastes and geographies to be bridged in an ‘open world’. One needs to see that ‘poor human situations’ persist in a world in which it is almost unfashionable to weep. Acceptable rather, was a vibrant play of victimised images, if at all one is concerned about such matters and images. It had always been funny to look and wonder at such ghosts of imagination. But why do humans still draw the details of impoverished life and posit themselves in uncomfortably ironical ways as done by sheriff? One reason is that he caters to a gloomy middle-class reader/viewer ship of this locale that habitually romance on lesser human orders. One can also frame the issue almost in the way similar to what is done by Theodor Zeldin in ‘Intimate History of Humanity’. (Penguin Books, 1999). He analyses interesting questions like ‘how some people have acquired immunity to loneliness’, ‘how humans have increasingly lost hope, and how new encounters and a new pair of spectacles revive them’, ‘why even the privileged are often somewhat gloomy about life’ etc. It is quite revealing to see how persons / artists pay attention to, or ignore the experiences of previous or distant generations; also, how they are continuing the struggles of many other creative communities all over the world.
When art is regarded as a creation of ‘tasteful lifestyle’, there will be efforts to sustain the regime of acceptable imagination. So certain ‘radical’ images are almost extinct today. We cannot see some images properly though they are very much there, like we see glossy textiles and textures aplenty but not those with cheap prints and stains of being used to the last of its life. Submerged materials haunt human beings silently. When we try to make them into ‘motif’ or productive permutations and combinations, they are wishfully thought not to disturb but exist on a liberal and acceptable platform.
Shereef has been professionally productive yet has been making conscious attempts to resist a survival-lifestyle. Submerged materials and images erupt when no guards of the system are available. When they erupt, as in sheriff’s drawings one might as well call them chaotic, archaic or obsolete. They simply appear as the ghosts of imaginations that helplessly come alive. Let me think through Zeldin; Imagination is the set of ideas that persons utilise to live a life. In other words, they are attitudes inherited from immediate precedents or from distant centuries renewing or decaying at various speeds, just like cells of the body. And to see the ghosts very much alive, or to save ourselves a bit from our polished clownish spectatorship, where else we will go today?
It is true that micro-realities of cultures and localities still keep some ghosts of imagination alive! Like Shereef’s work, they will throw image-experiments with filth and squalor in certain direct modes of literalness, absurdity, narration and poetic warmth.
Dr. Kavitha Balakrishnan, Artist and Historian of Art; Senior Lecturer in Art History, Govt. College of Fine Arts, Thrissur