Satish Gujral’s Tryst with Modernity and Tradition
After a gap of many years Satish Gujral’s art returns to Mumbai. It was in 2007 that art lovers had a glimpse of Gujral’s oeuvre with his drawing, but the current exhibition at Jehangir Art Gallery, followed by Cymroza Art Gallery showcases the paintings, sculptures and drawings from his latest phase. For an artist who has made change/ transition and transformation his creative credo, every new phase is a revelation of an original and innovative artistic mind. This phase announces a new language to express the conundrum of modern times - the intensity of modernity and industrialization on one hand and substance of tradition on the other. The human form, simple mechanical devices and the deity are the constituents of this language. In different periods and in diverse moods, varying concerns have driven the artist. Some of these concerns offered relief, others stirred or provoked. The works included in this collection intend to soothe, rather than to disturb the beholder.
In the present body of work on display there continues to be an underlying painterly restraint but the frenetic energy from the previous phase is replaced by mellow and meditative treatment and emotion that is borne out of the artist’s engagement with the rapidly shifting globalizing world. A world where eroding values and an estranged alienated rootless-ness prevail which the artist within him views and reacts with concern.
In his words, just as birds shape their nests around their bodies; communities shape their architecture around their traditions. In the name of modernity, Indian art today is trying to become universal and rejecting its traditional moorings but, without tradition no art can be universal as it loses its communicative basis. Gujral has always related to larger socio-political issues right from his early days when he trained under masters such as Diego Riviera and David Alfaro Siqueiros when he interrogated revolutionary and public art.
With this series, it is as if he completes a journey from angst of the disjuncture and displacement filled Partition series to a seer like equanimity in the poise of the works in this phase. In fact, his oeuvre; the entire his body of work, from the Partition series onwards, has been infused with his personal experience as an Indian without losing its universal appeal. There is simultaneously a celebratory and yet calm aura in his works where he uses emotional and intellectual freedom to organize the subject or mood into a unified expression.
According to Gujral, one of the strengths of Indians and Indian-ness is their ability to adapt to leisure and adversity with equal ease. The foremost factor that facilitates this is religious faith that contains both, a deeply fatalistic element, and also has an amazing capacity to absorb discordant elements like a sponge. Despite the innovations, wrought by centuries of diverse and deep cultural influences on multifarious traditions, the cultural matrix has persevered. The paintings depict the spirit of celebration and the vitality of human experience. The artist has observed this dynamic attitude towards life amongst Indians. Whatever be their preoccupations, anxieties and concerns, the faith in sacredness of life has never been diminished. As Indians celebrate both Gods and Demons, this attitude infuses into their mundane existence.
The religious imagery painted with such detail and intricacy in these works is derived both from classical Indian sculptural tradition as well as popular art. The modern man hangs like Trishanku between belief and disbelief and much of our cultural productions and most nuanced reception to popular ideas are embedded in this dichotomous conundrum. In Gujral’s creative vision, instrumental technology is not in opposition to nature but in harmony, thereby evoking an aura of sublime stasis and calm.
Dr. Seema Bawa