119 years of Trust Interview THE TRIBUNE
sunday reading
Sunday, November 7, 1999
Bollywood Bhelpuri

Sugar 'n' SpiceLine
Wide angle
LineFauji BeatLine
Laugh LinesLine

"Tapasaya has gone out of modern
Indian art"

RAM VANJI SUTAR is the most respected sculptor whose imposing statues adorn the President’s House, Parliament, state capitals and also many important cities around the world. Now a sprawling 10-acre park at Surajkund in Haryana showcases the monumental works of one of India’s most gifted sculptors of the century.

Born in 1925 to a poor carpenter in Gondur in the Dhulia district of Maharashtra, Sutar had a natural talent for clay figurines which he perfected at Mumbai’s prestigious J.J. School of Art.

His first major work was the 45-feet high sculpture of goddess Chambal at Gandhi Sagar Dam in Madhya Pradesh. Chiselled out of a single block, the work depicts the close bond between the workers of the states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

He has been associated with the towering statues of Mahatma Gandhi. However, bad luck has dogged Sutar in his dream project. In 1970, the government commissioned him to make a lifesize statue of Mahatma Gandhi for the famous canopy opposite Delhi’s India Gate — lying vacant since King George’s statue was removed from it.

After he had completed the statue, some political leaders said that the canopy should be removed and Gandhi’s statue mounted on a pedestal. The controversy has prevented his statue from being installed for the last 30 years.

However, the setback hasn’t disheartened the 74-year-old Sutar. Every morning, he is in his Laxmi Nagar studio in east Delhi sharp at 10 a.m. and most of his day is spent working with clay, plaster of Paris and bronze which he melts in his own fire kiln.

Recently, the country got the first real opportunity to see Sutar’s work at a 10-acre park Anandavan at Surajkund near Delhi. Here he has erected massive fibre glass replicas of his best works, including those of Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, Bose and Azad.

Sutar also plans to start a sculpture institute in Anandavan where, besides teaching, he’d like to share his knowledge with budding artists and sculptors. The park will have an art gallery, as also an amphitheatre for folk artists, dancers and musicians.

"I would like people to see and get inspired by Gandhiji," says Sutar looking up at his piece- de -resistance — Mahatma Gandhi in a meditating pose. And then he sighs, "I only hope the statue gets installed at India Gate in my lifetime."

Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Isodore Domnick Mendis:

Of the numerous personalities that you have sculpted, who is your favourite subject?

My all-time favourite subject has been Mahatma Gandhi. Not only from an artist’s point of view but personally too I think there is no other leader in the world — past or present — who can be compared to Gandhiji. No one else has influenced me more than him. For me, he was and is the symbol of true India. A saint whom the world will keep looking up to forever.

Till date, how many sculptures of Mahatma Gandhi have you done?

I have done 50 large and small statues of Gandhiji ranging from a four-feet high Gandhi with two Harijan children which is installed in Tokyo to a lifesize sitting pose in the city centre of Madrid, Spain. In addition, I have made many small busts of Gandhiji which have been gifted by Indian heads of states to their counterparts in South Africa, Mexico, France, Italy, Argentina, Barbados and more.

Which is your favourite statue of Gandhiji?

My favourite statue is the one that shows Gandhiji in the meditation pose. It is a 17-feet statue which now sits in the lawns of the Parliament House.

Which other leaders have you sculpted?

I have done statues of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Rabindranath Tagore, Subash Chandra Bose, Maulana Azad, Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, Govind Ballabh Pant, Master Tara Singh, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and many others. Statues of Nehru have been installed in Jaipur, Manali, Bhopal and Lucknow, Rabindranath Tagore’s statues are in Moscow and Tokyo while those of Master Tara Singh have been installed in Delhi and Amritsar.

Which is your ongoing project?

I am presently working on the Shaheed Project which comprises statues of Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru, Sukh Dev and Chandrasekhar Azad — the four revolutionaries of India’s freedom struggle. This is going to be installed at Delhi Gate. Then there is a bust of the late President Dr Zakir Hussain for Parliament.

I am also working on a seven-pillar memorial for Sriperumbudur where Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. The project costs over a crore of rupees and should be completed by August 2000.

Apart from Rajiv Gandhi, you haven’t done a statue of any other current political leader. Doesn’t anyone fascinate you as an artist?

Most of the contemporary Indian leaders lack character. That’s why no one inspires me. Rajiv Gandhi was the last contemporary leader which I agreed to do simply because he had such an expressive and smiling face. The artist in me saw hope, youth and optimism in his countenance. The other leader I might work on sometime in the future may be Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Before commencing work on a particular personality what sort of study do you undertake?

I do an extensive research and read all that I can read about the personality. I talk to people who have been close to him or her. Finally, I go through as many pictures as I can of the person I am going to sculpt.

What is the most difficult part of the anatomy to sculpt?

The most challenging part of the anatomy is the facial expression. If you don’t get that right you have failed.

How much time does it take to complete one work?

It usually takes four months to complete a bronze bust but it can take over a year for a full statue.

What are the kind of costs involved?

The cost of a statue is directly related to its height. A 10-foot statue would cost Rs 10 lakh and 15 feet would costs Rs 15 lakh and so on.

Over the years, you have developed a certain predilection for the abstract. Any particular reason for that?

In the contemporary era — abstract art has an important place. As an artist I cannot separate myself from this art.

I was comissioned by the Indian Government to make a lifesize statue of Mahatma Gandhi for the canopy opposite Delhi’s India Gate which has been lying vacant since King George’s statue was removed from it. After I completed the statue, some political leaders said that the canopy should be removed and Gandhiji’s statue mounted on a pedestal. For over three decades now, the controversy has been raging and no government has come up with any viable solution.

As one of the country’s senior-most sculptors, what kind of a future do you see in your field?

I am sorry I see a dark future both in art and sculpture. A number of our present-day artists are just aping the West. They want instant results. Tapasaya is totally missing from today’s art.

What is Anandavan?

Anandavan is a 10-acre park near Delhi Surajkund, Haryana. Here I have mounted replicas of my best works, including those of Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, Bose, Pant and Azad. I also plan to start a sculpture institute where I’ll share my knowledge with budding sculptors. The park will have an art gallery as also an amphitheatre for folk artists, dancers and musicians.

After having done so many projects do you still have a dream project?

I am now 74. My only dream is that Gandhiji’s statue would one day be installed at India Gate during my lifetime. I have two models — one with the canopy with Gandhiji sitting in a meditating pose and the second without the canopy where Gandhiji is leading a march against the British rule.

You have been honoured with numerous awards. Do you have any regrets the Padmashree came so late in 1999?

It’s a privilege to get a Padmashree when one is alive. Normally state honours come posthumously. — Newsmen FeaturesBack

This feature was published on October 3, 1999

Home Image Map
| Interview | Bollywood Bhelpuri | Sugar 'n' Spice | Nature | Garden Life | Fitness |
Travel | Your Option | Time off | A Soldier's Diary | Fauji Beat |
Feedback | Laugh lines | Wide Angle | Caption Contest |