City, Kaavad and Other Works
12 - 24 October, 2011
35 Firoz Shah Road, New Delhi
Digital Books and Prints
12 - 31 October
D-40 Defence Colony, New Delhi
Vadehra Art Gallery presents a solo exhibition by Gulammohammed Sheikh, his first in Delhi since 2001. This major exhibition includes a number of works that are being exhibited for the first time in India, in addition to recent works.
The show features Sheikh’s seminal piece Kaavad: Traveling Shrine: Home, which premiered at the exhibition ‘Chalo India: A New Era of Indian Art’ at the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo in 2008. A kaavad or a mobile wooden shrine is a traditional object containing painted narratives which travelling performers, like the Kaavadiya Bhats of Rajastan, used as a prop for their storytelling. As the storyteller narrates his story, he would open the doors of the kaavad to reveal a new layer, building anticipation to the long-delayed moment of the sight of the inner core. To Sheikh this portable format not only offered the possibility of greater visibility but could retain within it narratives which could be combined in various permutations and combinations by the mere folding/unfolding of its doors. Each combination traces a different journey, a new narrative: Sheikh’s kaavad is a medium through which belief systems, of the past and present – social, cultural, political – could be examined. The archive of references is diverse – from contemporary citations of violence, displacement, migration to fabled journeys, Kabir’s quotations to autobiographical accounts. To Sheikh this is also a personal space, the world as Home, where personal histories are in conversation with characters from real life and art. Each facet of the kaavad tells a different story, yet they are all interwoven; large in scale they immerse the viewer in their very physicality and blur the gap between art and life.
The second monumental piece that will be on view is CITY: Memory, Dreams, Desire, Statues and Ghosts – Return of Hiuen Tsang, which was shown as part of the exhibition ‘Place.Time.Play: India-China Contemporary Art Exhibition’ curated by Chaitanya Sambrani, from the West Heavens Project,Shanghai, 2010. Specially created for the West Heavens Project which sought to explore therelationship between India and China, Sheikh’s work was created around the figure of Hiuen Tsangor Xuanzang, a famous Chinese Buddhist monk from the 7th century (Tang Dynasty) who travelled to India (which was known as West Heavens in his country) to bring home the scriptures that were to become the foundation of the numerous Chinese schools of Buddhism. Whereas in Kaavad Sheikh drew inspiration from the cartographic format of a Mappamundi (medieval European maps of the world), his landscape here brings together the visuality of a satellite image, such as from Google maps, and the bare drawings of archeological site maps. This work explores the possibilities of inhabiting one space while simultaneously creating other spaces (memories, dreams, desires). It is envisioned as the return of Hiuen Tsang to the City (in India, perhaps Gujarat) where the city is itself split into two – the standing panels map as the living city marked by recent violence and the floor panels as an archaeological site, with apparent reference to history and memory.
As Dr. Kavita Singh notes, “This exhibition is a culmination: bringing to their highest pitch and fullest amplitude many of the themes, motifs, modes and obsessions that have haunted the work of Gulammohammed Sheikh for the past thirty years… That the works in this show mark a particular high-point in Sheikh’s oeuvre, however, is first apparent in the ambitious, even monumental scale of many of the works on show. On a sustained viewing, slowly, they show themselves to be also at the point where the densities of meaning, the intensity of affect, and the weight of elegiac beauty find their most condensed and intense expression.”
The exhibition will also include a selection of Sheikh’s gouaches, oil canvases and papier mache works, along with other Kaavad Shrines and hand-painted and digital books.
Gulammohammed Sheikh (b. 1937) is an artist, educationist and writer whose work has spanned more than five decades. He is a founder-member of Group 1890, which was founded in 1963 by a group of artists. Through his work as an artist and educationist he emphasized the need for engagement with the historical narrative, and the importance in locating it within contemporary art, in order to build a critical discourse. As a pedagogue in MS University of Baroda, initially as a lecturer in Art History (1960-63, 1967-80) and then as a professor in the Painting department (1982-93), he instilled in his students the rigor of art historical research, a discipline which he holds as central to his own artistic practice. As a writer he has published several books and monographs on Indian art, other than editing the Vrishchik journal of arts and ideas with Bhupen Khakhar, and contributions to Gujarati literature in the form of prose and poetry. He has invested his knowledge further in the field
by being part of several national committees and organizations in change of policy and institutional advocacy. It is under his curatorial authority that some of the most seminal exhibitions in the last three decades have been realized – this includes Benodebihari Mukherjee Retrospective (2006-7) cocurated with R.Siva Kumar, New Art from India: Home, Street, Shrine, Bazaar, Museum (2002), Birth and Life of Modernity (1989) co-curated with Geeta Kapur and Anis Farooqi, Retrospective Exhibition: KG Subrahmanyan (1981) among others. His solo exhibitions include Mappings (2004), Palimpsest (2001), Kahat Kabir (1998), Pathvipath (1991) and Returning Home at Centre George Pompidou (1985). He has participated in numerous group shows, including the seminal 1981 exhibition Place for People curated by Geeta Kapur; recent exhibitions such as Horn Please: Narratives in Contemporary Indian Art (2007), Edge of Desire (2004-06), Crossing generations: diVERGE (2003).