New Delhi: An
interesting aspect of contemporary Indian art is the presence of
four generations of artists-like a large family, says renowned
painter and scholar Gulammohammed Sheikh, one of the founders of
the second wave progressive movement in 1963.
"One of the most interesting aspects of contemporary Indian art is
the presence of four generations of artists who are aware of one
another," Sheikh, 74, told IANS in an interview.
"The progressive years of the 1950s, our generation of the 1960s,
1970s and the young artists of 2000 work like a large family. This
is unique because we are living in multiple times. Our sense of
history is different," said Sheikh, whose canvas transforms maps
of Gujarat, India and the world into refined abstract art.
The Vadodara-based artist, who was awarded the Padma Shri in 1983
for his contribution to art, is in the capital after 10 years with
a solo exposition, "City Kavaad and Other Works", at the Lalit
The showcase presented by the Vadehra Art Gallery opened Oct 12
and will last until Oct 24.
The mixed media exhibits pull the viewer into Sheikh's strange
relationship with his state of birth - Gujarat - and the urban
A mixed media installation of the
"City" by leading artist Gulammohammed Sheikh
"Kavaad: Travelling Shrine: Home", a series of three-dimensional
works that Sheikh presented at the Mori Art Museum in 2008; a
monumental installation, "City: Memory, Dreams, Desire, Statues
and Ghosts - Return of Hiuen Tsang" from an exhibition in
Shanghai; and a series of digital books retelling collective
religious myths are a testimony of Gujarat's violent politics and
rich history in the context of events that have influenced global
Recalling his affair with city and maps, Sheikh, who is married to
artist Nilima Sheikh, said he was looking for a reference for a
world map to carry his urban re-mapping forward while in Europe.
"Basically, the mapping arises out of wanderlust. I have used maps
all my life while travelling in Europe and painted maps," Sheikh
"I found a 13th century European picture postcard of a world map
at the British Library bookshop. It was called the 'Ebstorf Mappa
Mundi' or 'Ebstorf's Map of the World'. I used digital technology
to enlarge it and made a series of 25 world maps -
re-interpretative in nature (and presented them in Mumbai in
2004)," said Sheikh, an alumnus of the Royal College of Art.
The next thing was to make something he was familiar with - the
city of Vadodara where Sheikh taught at M.S University in Fine
"We (a team of associates) searched Google Earth and found a
satellite map of Vadodara. I chose to make a print of it," the
It was a map of the central part of Vadodara - of both the old and
"We enlarged it on a 24-foot installation and drew freely on it.
We first drew streets and squares and then filled it from our
imagination. We wanted a city with relics from all historical
sources and from the different genres of Indian paintings," the
The giant became the microcosm of Sheikh's city.
"There is a Chinese connection in my work too. When I went to
Shanghai, I wanted to bring elements of Chinese art from the Song
period in my work. I painted the return of Hiuen Tsang to Vadodara
- and used Chinese icons to tell the story of his journey," the
"The use of Chinese idioms was of special significance because the
department of archaeology at M.S. University had excavated a 3rd
century 'stupa' at Devni Mori in the state and had found an
inscribed urn with ashes. It was believed that the ashes were
those of Lord Buddha's."
Holding himself inspired by Indian, Chinese, Persian and Western
genres in his art, Sheikh is associated with the history of
progressive revival in the arts in 1963 after the first wave - a
year after independence - in 1948 in Mumbai.
"In 1963, a group of 12 artists hosted an exhibition in New Delhi,
which was opened by Jawaharlal Nehru. The preface of the catalogue
for the exhibition was written by poet Octavio Paz, who was the
then Mexican envoy in India.
"We called ourselves the group of 1890 (after a house with that
number) and tried to create a new progressive manifesto asserting
our beliefs rooted in the unfettered creative spirit. We were
disillusioned with the Progressive Movement of 1948," he said.
"Octavio responded to our plea and wrote about it," he said.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com)