Stucco techniques have been known to sculptors for millennia. Some historians opine that the pyramids (approx. 4000 years ago) were plastered originally white. The Greek and Romans are known to have used stucco in constructions and sculptures. It must be during this period that Sangam era Tamils (the predecessors of modern south Indians) learned this technique, through maritime traders. Numerous imperial Chola period temples have their facades decorated using this technique. With the invention of Portland cement in 1843, the traditional method of making lime-based stucco was replaced by cement-based ones. One drawback of cement stucco is that its life-span is low, compared to that of plastered stucco. The first cement factory in India was established in Madras (Chennai) in 1904, and within a decade it became the standard use due to its low cost. Since then, this sort of painted cement sculptures have been decorating the façades and premises of the new temples; standing in stark contrast to the granite and bronze sculptures that were built to withstand for a longer period. What used to be hero stones and local deities, these days have local heroes in the form of policemen and other such contemporary symbols. This is popular especiallyin Tamil Nadu. This image was shot by Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad in the year 2012.

Saluting policeman, 2012

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Abul Kalam Azad is a visual artist based in India. Abul’s photographic works are predominantly autobiographical, and they explore the areas of politics, culture, micro-history, gender, and eroticism.

His works attempt a re-reading of contemporary Indian history – the history in which ordinary people are absent and are mainly represented through beautiful images and icons.

During the early 90s, for a brief period, he worked as a photojournalist with leading National/International agencies including the Press Trust of India. Mid-90s, he renounced his journalism career to become an independent artist.

Besides, Azad’s maverick and pioneer experimental hybrid art that blends different styles and techniques pushes the boundaries of contemporary Indian photographic art practice.

His current projects focus on a search inside South Indian maritime history and connected cultures, inspired by ancient literature, folklore, and rituals. His works have been exhibited in prestigious museums/galleries in India and abroad since the mid-90s. He is the recipient of various awards that includes Charles Wallace Award, French Government Scholarship award, Govt. of India’s Senior Art Fellowship, and India Foundation for the Arts Grant.

Abul Kalam Azad is the founder of Ekalokam Trust for Photography, a non-profit foundation committed to creating, protecting and sharing contemporary photography and other allied art forms. He also extends his services as Editor-in-Chief of Photo Mail, an online photo-art magazine.