Barbecue Republic, the new collection, by photographer Hariharan S, bares the bitter truths of society

Palms that reach across the frame in agony, female flesh moulded and shaped into something impersonal and ugly — Hariharan S’s Barbecue Republic is something scary to come face to face with

author_img Krishna P S Published :  09th November 2021 05:47 PM   |   Published :   |  09th November 2021 05:47 PM

Through ‘Barbecue Republic’ — the photography series and the book — Hariharan S strives to reveal the uncomfortable truth behind the glitter that nations try to project as their facade.

KOCHI: Each frame is filled with raw flesh; grotesque, uncomfortable and disturbing. With nightmarish quality, each black and white image bare something ugly to the world — the sufferings and horrors hidden under the golden lies. Through ‘Barbecue Republic’ — the photography series and the book — Hariharan S strives to reveal the uncomfortable truth behind the glitter that nations try to project as their facade.  It’s not a particular country. It is a universal truth that spans over centuries across the world. “This is what I saw when I looked beyond. The viewers might find something different,” says Hariharan.

In the series, nude photographs of a female subject are distorted beyond recognition. Not a speck of beauty is visible in the series, nor warmth. Each frame is manipulated and merged with many images and finally, the subject disappears altogether from the frame and what’s remaining is just the flesh. 

As the artist explains, the series exhibits how the four pillars of democracy aids in dehumanising the marginalised communities, stripping their individuality and moulding them into animal-like entities. Something that happens everywhere in the world, in every society. It doesn’t matter what elaborate techniques were employed to reconstruct the images for the series, sometimes crossing all the limits of photography. “I have used varying viewpoints spanning many years to develop this series. It is not the usual photography that freezes at a particular moment. It contains multiple moments and multiple points. What matters is the concept, not the technique. The technique here was arrived at to perhaps see-through and try to determine the ailment deep below, akin to the use of the X-Ray or the CT Scan,” says the artist.  Tired and twisted bodies and flesh implode in every frame like fragments left after a war. The surreal images, that went through rigorous manipulation, is alive and bizarre, prompting the artist to provide a warning along with the book. He also refrains from beautifying any aspect of the book. The only beautiful frame of the total 25 images appears on the cover — the symmetric and embellished four pillars of a democracy made of flesh. 

“In the concentration camps run by the German Nazis during the Second World War, each inmate was tattooed with a number as soon as they were brought there. From that moment, they were just numbers, not humans. It’s a procedure similar to branding cattle. To control humans, you need to dehumanise them, project them as animals. Similar tactics are used in every patriarchal society. A process of reconstructing your target into another thing that you can control,” says Hariharan. It is these dehumanised bodies that Harihan’s lens explores in the Barbecue Republic.

“The situation is especially grim for the women of marginalised communities. They are facing a two-pronged sword. The regime and society that is trying to rule them along with the men in their community who wants to control them,” he adds. 

Hariharan dedicates the book to the late K R Gowri Amma and tribal activist Soni Sori — two women, who revealed the institutionalised and systemic cruelties to the two pillars of democracy. “They revealed what the republic has done to them. Still, the same situation continues. Even with small victories, the system remains the same hiding behind a carefully constructed lid. Take any government or dictatorship that represses the people, the ones that endure the most are women,” says Hariharan. 

This prompted him to use a female body for the series. The headless images displayed without any sensuality is just skin and flesh — sometimes taking on different forms, often grotesque and creepy bearing witness to all the ugly truths.

Here, with each carefully constructed image of flesh devoid of any charm, he makes the viewers think, question and at the same time inspires a collective quest for the truth.    

Barbecue Republic won the Kerala Lalitha Kala Grant for Photography

The series will be exhibited in Kozhikode from January 19 to 25 next year