Delhi-based artist Gogi Saroj Pal passed away on January 27, leaving behind a rich legacy of her artworks. Proficient at working with mediums as diverse as installation, painting, gouache, oil, sculpture, graphic printing, ceramics, jewellery, weaving and photography, here was a modernist whose surroundings, family, friends, flora and fauna and trysts with life shaped her creative expression.
In her own words, “My life and my cultural identity carve the directions of my expression. Inspirations for expression emerge around and within me. I want my creative concerns to be relevant to my times, imbibing local, regional and universal consciousness. I want to express these in my own creative visual imagery. I want to evolve and leave behind creative visual symbols as references to our times. I think in colour and achieve consistent factor (sthal bhav) to accomplish creativity in my paintings.”
Gogi Saroj Pal was born in Uttar Pradesh’s Neoli in 1945. It definitely wasn’t easy for a young Gogi to pursue her passion as an emerging artist in the 1960s, but she continued to showcase her art at group shows and carved a niche for herself in the dynamic art ecosystem that defined the post-Partition years. Interestingly, she was denied admission to the graphics department of the College of Art, Delhi, as she was a known artist by then. She, however, chose to join the painting department there, which turned out to be a favourable twist of fate.
Colour and its vivid portrayal are intrinsic to the artist’s body of work, bright and lilting hues depicting her interpretation of the feminine. As an artist, she was strongly against being slotted as a ‘woman’ or ‘female’ artist. The women in her paintings are living and breathing beings, who express themselves in myriad ways that defy notions of gender biases, societal stereotypes or misogynist mindsets.
Take her ‘self-portrait’ series, for example. In one painting, we see a young woman clad in a simple white kurta, wearing spectacles, hands clasped, standing against an open window, marked with a lush green backdrop. The artist in this self-portrait looks like a woman in control, someone with a point of view on what she is observing. This is what defines the process of her artistic creations, too.
Besides, Gogi’s protagonists or ‘nayikas’ were also often inspired by myths and fables. She created her version of the ‘Kinnari’ or the mythical bird-woman; the ‘dancing horse’ or the half-woman, half-horse character; and ‘Kamdhenu’, the wish-fulfilling cow. Her women were bold, brazen, sensuous, voluptuous and simply beautiful. But at the same, their tilted heads, folded hands and soft limbs exuded their inner vulnerability in a patriarchal society. As she articulated, “I wanted to give Indian mythology some new ‘nayikas’ to introspect.”
When she portrayed her ‘Kinnaris’ or bird-women as nude figures, enjoying every bit of their raw sex appeal, Gogi used the ‘rasa bhav’ or emotion to comment on women’s liberation and their natural effervescence that she balances with the ‘sthal bhav’ or the grounding that is reflected from her self-assured strokes and colour palette.
The artist held over 30 solo exhibitions. Prominent among these included ‘Young Monks’, a reflection on the solitude experienced by monks in monasteries, and ‘Aag ka Dariya’ (‘River of Fire’), which was a reaction to the ruthless practice of female foeticide. Responsive to the events around her, Gogi dedicated her ‘Nirbhaya’ series to the brutal 2012 Delhi gang-rape case wherein she depicted an angry woman with sickles. She also encouraged and supported emerging artists and welcomed them in her East of Kailash basement studio in New Delhi, which she shared with her husband, artist Ved Nayar.
As a tribute to her seminal body of work, the DAG opined, “We were fortunate to have in her an artist with a distinctive personality — as a painter, printmaker and sculptor, as well as a person with a limitless sense of joie de’ vivre. She reflected herself closely in her art which, when looked at closely, reflects all her traits: distinctive, feminist, irreverent, with a voice that set her apart.”
She continued to create art till her last days and would remark, “For me, art is a way of life. I don’t know how to live without it… Everything I do is oriented towards expressing myself.”
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