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The definitive Yusuf Arakkal collection goes on display in Bengaluru

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Bengaluru’s NGMA is exhibiting an extensive collection of the works of the late artist Yusuf Arakkal

Bengaluru’s NGMA is exhibiting an extensive collection of the works of the late artist Yusuf Arakkal

Mentor. Friend. Partner. Travel guide. Writer. Poet. There is a quiet pride in Sara Arakkal’s voice as she talks about her late husband, Yusuf. Known to the world as an artist of repute, Sara is privy to the boy he was and the man he became — evident in Celebration of Solitude and Humanity: Yusuf Arakkal Retrospective. The exhibition is not only a homage to Yusuf’s body of work, but is also Sara’s life story as well as his.

“His parents had passed away when he was very young and he was brought up by relatives in Chavakkad, Kerala who couldn’t understand or nurture the creative urge in him. His constant sketching on the walls was frowned on and his requests to study art were rejected. He ran away to Bangalore when he was a teenager to become an artist,” says Sara.

A painting by Yusuf Arakkal
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

After roughing it out for close to three years, ekeing out an existence doing odd jobs around the city, destiny brought him face to face with T. Mohammed. “They got to talking in Malayalam and my father took him under his wing. He brought him home to tutor us — we are five siblings.”

Mohammed, who was working at HAL then, got Yusuf a job there too. “Yusuf still had a burning desire to study art, so he enrolled at Chitrakala Parishath, working the evening shift at HAL so he could attend classes during the day.”

Sara recalls how they would struggle to find the work-art balance in the initial years. “Yusuf was always painting and at that time, I had no clue about the art world. Once, he had finished a painting of Mother Teresa. I saw it lying flat and hung it up. The paint hadn’t dried and soon enough it seemed Mother Teresa had lost most of her wrinkles,” she laughs.

Needless to say, Yusuf had to redo it. Their son Shibu, a pre-schooler at the time, touched the still wet, blue hem of Mother Teresa’s sari with his fingertips — two tiny smudges his father left untouched.

Mother Teresa by Yusuf Arakkal

Mother Teresa by Yusuf Arakkal
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The anecdotes abound as do the seemingly endless expressions of creativity. Oils and acrylics on canvas and paper, water colours, pen-and-ink sketches, charcoals, computer graphics and serigraphs, adorn the walls in all shapes and sizes, while sculptures in copper, terracotta, aluminium and wood, dot the gallery.

“He was constantly trying his hand with new material and eventually commissioned works began coming his way. Our journey started to take us all around the world and he patiently taught me about the works of other artists and how to curate a show,” she says. In the mid-70s, there were few private galleries where one could exhibit and the duo eventually opened Gallery Sara Arakkal to provide a platform for fledgling artists.

A sculpture by Yusuf Arakkal

A sculpture by Yusuf Arakkal
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Sara quit her job at an ad agency to run the gallery. Yusuf’s hardships fostered a generosity of spirit, but fame never got to his head. “He found immense satisfaction in helping new artists and mentoring them,” she says. At the entrance of the exhibition, is the Arto-Mobile, Yusuf’s first car which he reworked into a copper sculpture because he couldn’t bear to dispose off it once he got a new ride.

Soon, the awards began pouring in, but Sara says it was the award bestowed by the Lalit Kala Akademi in 1983, that held a special meaning for Yusuf.

For this exhibition, the first since his passing in 2016, Sara has put together close to 200 pieces of his work spanning 45 years. “I have tried to display at least a few works from every series Yusuf ever created. Many collectors were kind enough to loan us their pieces.”

Honouring his legacy, a catalogue of Yusuf’s works will be released mid-November and will be on sale at NGMA with Faces of Creativity, a collection of his pen-and-ink sketches of personalities he admired.

Celebration of Solitude and Humanity – Yusuf Arakkal Retrospective will be on display at NGMA Bengaluru till November 30, 2022.

Faces of Creativity, a collection of pen-and-ink sketches by Yusuf Arakkal

Faces of Creativity, a collection of pen-and-ink sketches by Yusuf Arakkal
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement



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