Dark Material and the Indexical in the Drawings of Prabhakar Pachpute

  • Asmita Sarkar Srishti Manipal Institute of Art Design and Technology


In the following essay, I propose to write about charcoal as it is employed by contemporary Indian artist Prabhakar Pachpute in his drawing. In his charcoal drawings, he depicts the daily life of the workers in the coal-mining town of Sasti, India. As a material, charcoal has layers of meaning deserving of theorisation and analysis. There is an existing debate in art history and theory on how to analyze the material aspect of an art object (Ingold 2007; Elkins 2008). In this article, I have contextualised Pachpute’s charcoal drawings against the sociologically and politically charged charcoal works of William Kentridge and Kara Walker in order to bring out the similarities and differences between these three artists’ drawings. I have shown that in Pachpute’s work charcoal as a material has a direct and causal relation to the subject matter of his drawing. This connection is explored further in light of philosophy of indexicality (Peirce 1982; Leja 2000; Iversen 2012). Pachpute’s drawings depicting miners and mining towns are drawn using charcoal, which is burnt wood and, sometimes, powdered coal bound in adhesive. In India, coal mining operations are one of the most important causes of deforestation and pollution. Furthermore, the fact that Pachpute’s family comes from the coal-mining towns of Sasti and that he was born and brought up there adds to the poignancy of his drawings. His hand drawn works that capture his bodily presence make the lived experience of working-class people more visceral and direct.

How to Cite
SARKAR, Asmita. Dark Material and the Indexical in the Drawings of Prabhakar Pachpute. TRACEY, [S.l.], v. 15, n. 1, p. 1-11, may 2021. ISSN 1742-3570. Available at: <https://ojs.lboro.ac.uk/TRACEY/article/view/3016>. Date accessed: 25 jan. 2022.