Gulammohammed Sheikh ‘Kaarawaan and Other Works’: Maps for a lost nation : The Tribune India

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Gulammohammed Sheikh ‘Kaarawaan and Other Works’: Maps for a lost nation

Gulammohammed Sheikh ‘Kaarawaan and Other Works’: Maps for a lost nation

A ‘kaawad’ depicting Gandhiji’s simplicity and his spirit.



Malvika Kaul

Gulammohammed Sheikh is 87 and warns that he “rambles a lot”. His art meanders, beautifully traversing eras. The canvases appear to move in different directions, presenting multiple narratives in a single moment. They look like elegant Google maps, helping locate the crises of human existence.

The artist believes

‘art brings peace’.

At his new exhibition (‘Kaarawaan and Other Works’), organised by Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi, Gulammohammed presents an exhaustive set of images depicting diverse metaphors for life. Giant canvases feature luminaries like Kabir, Gandhi, St Francis and Frida Kahlo entwined with peasants and kings, lovers and friends, soldiers and singers. Atop terraces, around gardens, inside homes and into the sea, creatures big and small attempt to tell their stories of glory and tragedy. His elegiac canvases map cosmopolitan India and vernacular Bharat, narrating the multi-cultural and multi-religious ethos of the nation. Delicately painted birds are juxtaposed with shattered habitats — every canvas evokes dialogue, a confrontation of ideas. Some canvases are presented as installations. Old tales are retold in modern folders. In ‘Majnun in the Forest’, the lost lover sits with a streak of tigers in a deep forest. The painting appears like a satellite image, blurred and intimate simultaneously. On the other side of ‘Majnun’ is ‘Tree of Sleep’, a microscopic and aerial view of the tree of life. Both canvases are disparate yet connected. His art excels in convergence.

In the massive canvas ‘Kaarawaan’, the ark (a popular motif for Gulammohammed) carries women, men, children, birds and beasts, along with guardian saints, on turbulent waters. For Gulammohammed, this creation is a metaphor for life. Everyone carries bitter-sweet experiences. What he learnt about Kabir in school, observed about Gandhi or what fascinated him about the Renaissance artists, have all become part of his memory. “I am continually making memory,” he says, emphasising the need to bring in multiple visions in expression and probe everything from inside and outside. This multiplicity liberates him from a singular point of view. 

He drew his inspiration for the ark series from 18th-century Pahari painter Nainsukh’s work ‘Boat Adrift A River’. The boat, filled with the king’s soldiers, floats in turbulent waters. The current exhibition is a tribute to Nainsukh. In his works, the ark also represents the refuge and strength of pluralistic culture. His 2015 work on Kashmir (‘Ark: Kashmir’) was a poignant reminder of the fragile syncretic culture and peace of the region. Often the ark appears as a response to the rising sectarian violence in the country. Despite the doom that the agitated waves symbolise, the ark is representative of hope. 

The exhibition also showcases a collection of ‘kaawads’ or portable shrines. The most memorable belongs to Gandhi, depicting his simplicity and his spirit. As you open the folding doors, you are face-to-face with Gandhi’s childhood, youth, marriage, political struggle...

Gulammohammed is witness to almost four generations of artists. He hopes for better appreciation for them. The small constituency of art “matters to the health of the nation”. For, he believes that “art brings peace”.

On till March 12

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