It is amazing how I manage to make my weekends more hectic than my weekdays; this Saturday fell in line with the general trend. Having volunteered for Kathakar, an International Storytellers’ Festival organised by Nivesh, Saturday saw me at the IGNCA amphitheatre, standing at the registration desk of the event. The icing on the cake was the ongoing exhibition of Satish Gujral’s work at the Twin Art Gallery of IGNCA, celebrating the nonagenarian’s illustrious career. The perfect end to this hectic day was the night long revelries at my alma mater, Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi, on the occasion of its Cultural Night.
A Brush With Life
Browsing through the works of a single artist is an experience very distinct from going to an exhibition that has the works of multiple artists under one roof. In the former, one gets to see the changing perspectives and style of the artist as he travels through life. The experience becomes all the more exhilarating when the artist is a painter, sculptor, muralist, architect and writer. And when the career spans nine illustrious decades, you have a treasure of artistic work laid out before you.
A Brush With Life celebrates Satish Gujral’s life and prodigious career on his 90th Birthday. Losing his hearing in an accident at the age of eight profoundly altered his life. Seeing a need for vocational training to enable him to live life at his own terms, he was enrolled at the Mayo School of Arts, Lahore (1939-1944) whence he derived his training of drawing together the arts of painting, sculpture and architectural drawing. The pursuit of fine arts continued at Sir JJ School of Fine Arts, Bombay (1944-1947). Following Indian Independence he won a scholarship to Mexico where he was exposed to Mexican Muralism. This diverse training led to his ability to fuse diverse techniques and disciplines. The visitor cannot but be awed as he/she moves from one section to the next by the distict change in style and media.
Gujral’s first major commission was a portrait of Lala Lajpat Rai for the Central Hall of Parliament. The story behind the rejection and final acceptance of this painting through Nehru’s intervention is there to read at the exhibition. Being one of the millions overwhelmed by the tide of Partition, a silenced Gujral vented his feelings through his paintings. The body of work that it led to, referred to as the Partition Paintings, vividly portray the trauma and grief surrounding partition. The strong expressionist brushwork come closest in style to his training as a muralist. The subsequent decades saw prestigious commissions of murals in wood, ceramic, mosaic and metal.
Gujral not only pioneered the creation of collages in India but also burnt wood sculptures that were much debated for their subtle political overtones. His work as an architect broke new grounds as well. His design of the Embassy of Belgium in New Delhi was recognised by the International Jury of Architecture as being among the 1000 best architectural buildings of the 20th century. Over 70 original works of art take the visitor through subsequent works which were almost surrealist in style involving the use of media as diverse stone, bronze and resin.
The appeal of an exhibition such as this is its ability to take the visitor on a journey through time and see the impact of events-public and personal, on the works of the artist. Just as partition and emergency find expression in his work, so does his cochlear implant. In 1998, on account of a cochlear implant, Gujral could hear again. The exuberance, as he learnt to distinguish different sounds, was manifested in his art through renewed vigour and a fresh palette of colors. The previous somber mood and dark despair now wear the garb of luminous colors. Though Gujral removed his implant in 2008 his use of color remains. The last section of the exhibition displays some of his recent works which have symbolism from his childhood: spindles and kites among others.
Moving from one epoch of his life to the next, through works of art that are distinctly different in style, one admires the man for his versatility. The exhibition is on till 20th February, 2016, it is a must visit for any art enthusiast.
The International Storytellers’ Festival, Kathakar, was a one of its kind event organised in the Capital. The second day of the festival (the day that I chose to volunteer) saw storytellers gravitating at IGNCA from regions as diverse as Merut and United Kingdom. The geographical span and acumen of the story-tellers meant that the audience was in for a round of eclectic stories and folktales; they did not disappoint. Juxtaposing Giles Abbott‘s rendition of Monsters and Men with the narration of Satyavan and Savitri by the Swang artists, the contrast brought out the difference in style of story-telling between local folk tales in India and English story-telling. Tales of King Arthur narrated by Tim Ralphs and the rendition of Shiva and Sati by Emily Hennessey had the audience enthralled.
Post this event I rushed to Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi. Having gone to the campus after months, the feeling of joy coupled with nostalgia was overwhelming.