‘Indian artists need to work closer to their roots’

MANY SHADES OF MANU PAREKH: The artist at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi.   | Photo Credit: V_V_KRISHNAN

When he had to make a choice between art and theatre, he chose the former because this was something one could still pursue even if employed. At 78, Manu Parekh’s retrospective showcasing his 60 years of practice at the National Gallery of Modern Art has given the artist a moment to deliberate about the choices he made in life and their impressions on his oeuvre. Along with this, a coffee table book titled ‘Manu Parekh: 60 Years of Selected Works’ (Aleph) features his celebrated works. Excerpts:

How did the idea of this retrospective come about?

It all happened organically. I had met the director of NGMA, Adwaita Gadanayak during Jitish Kallat’s show in January. And as we casually started talking, he invited me over to his office and when I met him, I think, I managed to convince him with my arguments. And, here I am with my entire body of work that chronicles the development of my six decades of practice. The biggest advantage for me has been the fact that since I have curated it as well, I got a chance to review and survey my work and present it in a symbolic way.

What was the argument you had put forth?

I think that this exhibition is important because it is showcasing works of an artist from the second generation. Why I am calling myself from the second generation is because we, 15-20 artists, struggled a lot. We had to keep a regular job to run our house and at the same time paint for our satisfaction. If you look at our seniors, most of them left India and went abroad and the contemporaries too went ahead on the global map. So, I think that we have bridged these two generations. Not many will be familiar with the works of Prabhakar Barwe or Nikhil Biswas. We have forgotten these artists and time is ripe to highlight their works as well.

You never shied away from experimenting when it came to mediums or materials. Has this been an innate quality?

My biggest quality is that I have always changed my work and this is why I have always joked around saying that no commercial gallery could find a space for my works because of this habit of experimentation. However, jokes apart, tell me one thing, doesn’t life change in ten years? Then why do some artists follow the same style? I am not complaining about anyone, but I just wonder how they manage to do it so well. I believe that you have different experiences in life and the impact they have on you are reflected through your activities, in my case painting. But, I try not to illustrate these experiences in my works, they are there just making the background noise.

How have your experiences reflected in your works?

My works from the ‘80s series are somewhat dark and morbid. It was the time when I used to go to villages as part of Handicraft Handloom Export Corporation (HHEC) for whom I worked for more than 20 years and there I came face-to-face with the dark face of poverty and deprivation. So, my experiences were dark. Similarly, my ‘Flower Vase’ series that has sexual undertones stem from that idea that if I am showing life, it has to have some kind of physicality. So, when I was showing growth, I had to show sexuality. My works have an unmistakable impression of my thoughts and experiences.

What were the thoughts in your mind when you were working on your celebrated Banaras series?

When I first went to Varanasi after my father’s death in 1980, I already knew that Ram Kumar and M.F.Husain had painted the city, but I was sure that my middle-class moorings and the fact that I came from a god fearing family would paint the holy city with a whole new idea. And, that is what exactly happened. There is a space for religion and some space for faith in my Banaras series and since faith is integral to human lives, the series struck a chord with viewers.

Your works are often rooted in Indian culture and craft. Has it been a conscious effort to borrow from your immediate surroundings?

India is an incredible country and we are blessed with so much craft and culture. There are tremendous possibilities in India if one is willing to explore. I would say that I got lucky to see our rich cultural heritage because of my experience with the handloom corporation. And, while experimenting with my mediums, I consciously tried to show our culture. Otherwise, we artists have a tendency to paint Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and then straight to London, Paris and New York. I think, Indian artists really need to work closer to their roots. Look at what is happening in the fashion industry; designers have now started looking inwards and are working with indigenous crafts and weeks, something we took to the international level during our days with the corporation.

(‘Manu Parekh: 60 Years of Selected Works’ is on till September 24 at the NGMA)

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 7:55:03 AM |

Next Story