Painter, poet, critic and teacher, Gulammohammed Sheikh has reigned as one of India’s most important contemporary artists for over four decades now. Sheikh, who firmly established the modern narrative tradition on Indian canvasses, uses dialogue and memory as twin ploys to evoke new imaginings of the world around us. Excerpts from a telephone interview a week before he speaks at The Hindu Lit for Life 2017:
You famously used your mother’s photo to tell a larger, universal story. How does this process of amplification work for you?
The painting refers to my time spent in Surendranagar, where I was born. The painting ‘Returning Home after a Long Absence’ made years later was based on a photo of my mother I had taken. That work provided an opportunity to examine the context of the small town where I grew up. I combined the image of my mother with several other images quoted from different traditions and combined it with some images I construed myself. Later, I also invoked image of townships in a painting (‘Speechless City’, 1975-77) I made during the Emergency, which had political dimensions. Subsequently, in the late 70s-early 80s, I began to explore the city of Baroda where we had made our home. For instance, ‘City for Sale’ (1981-84), which deals with the communal situation. Eventually, I began to expand the idea of the city into larger spaces. Finally, as it developed, the map of the city turned into the map of the region, and then the map of the world.