This image of a street theatre artist is shot by Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad in Tamil Nadu. Koothu or Therukoothu is an ancient art, where artists play songs with dance and music in storytelling the epics. Performed in Tamil, it is a folk art form originated from the Sangam-era (3rd century BCE to 3rd century CE) Tamil country, a loosely held territory that includes a majority of present South Indian States and Northern parts of Sri Lanka. Koothu is an informal dance structure, in which performances generally depict scenes from ancient epics such as Ramayana, Mahabharata and Tamil classical epics. There is traditionally no spoken dialogue, only songs. Artists are trained to sing in their own voice and in a high pitch to reach the entire crowd, since no amplification technology is used. The artists are dressed up with complex heavy costumes and have a very bright elaborated makeup. They put on towering head dresses, sparkling shoulder plates and wide colorful skirts. Traditionally, this theatre form has been predominantly male, though in modern times more females have been included.

Theru Koothu, 2013

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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.