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Portraits of permanence

His creations in clay evoke admiration. He has just presented the latest to President AJP Abdul Kalam. He is Babu, a Qatar-based artist who has come up with a portrait of the President.



THE PRESIDENT IN SOIL... Babu Edakkunni with his creation in New Delhi. Photo: Anu Pushkarna.

A PINCH of white soil from Silgoti village in Haryana, a little bit of grey clay from a place called Farmer's Village in the north of Haryana, reddish brown soil from Jalahali, and mustard shade earth from a place in Pondicherry and a yellow one from Coimbatore. The result is, well, our beloved President Abdul Kalam Azad. No, it is not his sculpture mounted at a venue of national importance but a huge painting created on plywood only with all these different types of soil by 38-year-old Babu Edakkunni, a Kerala-born Qatar-based artist who specialises in making paintings using soil. When Babu presented this painting to the President this past week at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the President, in the artist's words, "jumped from his chair after getting to know that it was made only with soil."

In the portrait of the President, "the eyes were the most difficult part to create, as they had to convey the seriousness and sensitivity that our President has," says the artist who often finds formation of jaw lines and eyes "a little too difficult a portion to develop with this medium." This medium, he adds is one that does not give you a chance for retakes as in theatre performances. "Once the soil is pasted on plywood with Fevicol, it takes a permanent shape," he informs.

Babu does not use any artificial colours to bring the desired shades to his creations but mixes the huge collection of soil he procures from almost across the world to create his paintings. And he tries to make portraits of the Heads of State of the countries he visits, using only soil procured from their particular country. For instance, in creating the President's portrait, he did not use soil from a foreign land. Similarly, he made the portrait of Sheikh Ahmad bin Khalifa Al Thani and heir apparent Tamim bin Ahmad Al Thani, of the UAE, from soil found in the UAE only. This creative designer, who earlier worked with Archies, did his formal training from Thrissur School of Art and is currently employed with the Ministry of Culture in Qatar.

Search for permanence

Babu's other creations on soil include scenes of lifestyle of Qatar 200 years ago, the picture of which he got from old books picked up from the library, landscapes and natural scenes. Almost every alternate year he takes a hiatus of six months to search for the soil he needs for his works and ends up making portraits. The idea was mooted when he did a course in rangoli long back. "I saw that after putting in so much effort people wash it off after some time. I wanted to create something that was permanent," says the artist.

This ardent admirer of Van Gogh and Picasso would like to exhibit his works in Delhi once he gets the sponsorship.

RANA SIDDIQUI

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