Memories of partition and more from ace artist Satish Gujral

New Delhi, Feb 19 (IANS) As one steps into the tastefully-lit twin art gallery at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), where veteran artist Satish Gujral’s works are on display, one is overwhelmed by the painful memories of partition portrayed by the artist with poignant strokes.

The exaggerated human figures in the oil canvases speak of the anguish and grief during the tumultous times of 1947 that Gujral was a witness to.

With Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s soulful ‘The Dawn of Freedom’ poem playing in the background, the mood is sombre and the exhibition, titled ‘Brush of Life’, transports the viewer into a surreal world.

Curated by K.G. Pramod Kumar, it pays homage to Gujral, one of India’s most celebrated artists who turned 90 last December and who is a recipient of the Padma Vibhushan India’s second highest civilian honour.

The compelling show of 70 works, presented by the Gujral Foundation, provides a rare opportunity for deeper understanding of the man behind the work. Spanning over six decades, the works also display the diversity of Gujral’s craft.

“The exhibition is organised to celebrate the 90 years of the artist. The idea is to show his earlier works, most of which are not in the public arena. Many of them are shown for the first time. We have even got some of his earlier works dating to 1952,” Pramod Kumar said.

While most of the works were obtained from Chandigarh museum, others were acquired from private museums, collectors and some evven from the National Gallery of Modern Art.

Born in Jehlum in the undivided Punjab, Gujral began his career in 1947 with a dramatic work titled ‘Partition paintings’ that captured the trauma of the times.

“Partition paintings are one of the most important works of his career. Gujral and his parents were personally involved in helping a lot of people during partition. His early works came out of that livid experience. Gujral was involved in the rescue and rehabilitation women who have been kidnapped from both sides of the border,” Pramod Kumar said.

Walking through the exhibition, organised in a chronological order, one realises that Gujral is perhaps the only modern Indian artist to have worked in such diverse mediums – from abstract paintings, metal, burnt wood sculptures, huge installations, murals, to architecture. All this is thanks to his training at Lahore’s Mayo School of Arts, the artist said.

“I have to admit that it was the artisan’s abilities, the curriculum of Mayo that later became my assets, They were the foundation of my skills as a painter, sculptor and architect in later life,” Gujral said.

Despite his indifferent health (which had resulted in a hearing impairment at the age of eight), he went on to study at Palacio Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico, where he was apprenticed to the renowned artists Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

If the 1960s to the 1980s saw prestigious commissions of murals in wood, ceramic, mosaic and metal, Gujral subsequently turned to abstract expression of religious themes. However, the artist makes it clear that deities in his work doesn’t signify any mythological or religious symbols.

“His work entered another epoch as he delved into sculpture using stone, metals and resin alongside elaborate forays into ceramics, a preferred material for his iconic murals across North India that had been inspired by his work with Diego Rivera in Mexico in the early 1950s,” the curatorial note explains.

Gujral’s works took a perceptive turn in 1988 when he was given a cochlear implant enabling him to hear after six decades of silence. His works during this period return to memories of childhood and conjures up the eagerness to capture them in colour.

The exhibition also features some of the portraits made by Gujral one of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1957. “Gujral’s brother (former Prime minister I K Gujral) was close to Nehru. Nehru stood for the portrait,” Pramod Kumar said.

Besides Nehru, portraits of Lala Lajpat Rai and Krishna Menon are also on display, seemingly simple, but painted with strong outlines and bold colours.

As one reaches the end of the exhibition where Gujral’s latest works are in juxtaposition with his earlier ones to explicate how the artist’s journey has come full circle, the viewer too sees, feels and witnesses life, struggle and celebration through Gujral’s eyes.

(Preetha Nair can be contacted at preetha.n@ians.in)

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