Gulammohammed Sheikh is an Indian painter, writer and art critic who has been a major figure in the Indian art world for half a century. His artistic career is closely associated with the renowned MS University of Baroda in Gujarat where after gaining his Master's degree, Sheikh went on to teach in the Faculty of Fine Arts, and where he was appointed Professor of Painting in 1982.
Well, another show which I got involved in, because it was the project that interested me, it was for the Manchester Art Gallery, and the project was to have three shows. One show of art of India, that is contemporary art. Well, it was all contemporary art. The other was art of Sri Lanka. The third was art of Bangladesh, sorry, four exhibitions, and the fourth was art of Pakistan. I undertook this responsibility because I thought that such an enterprise wouldn't take place in any of these countries. You know, it would never happen, and here it was a venue which was outside all four, and it was going to be in England in four different places nearby, Manchester and three other places.
That was useful because I had been toying with this idea and I had written a paper that was with regard to art practice in India. One of the papers was about sites of art, and what would consider, what would one consider art in that sense? But even if one did not go into every... every kind of art that was produced, one at least felt that at least we could address these three principle areas. One was obviously the urban modern, that one. In some sense art school artists or something, you know, which was art of the galleries, art of the museums.
The other one which also you know, roughly what is called folk art, or something which is rural, tribal, and we felt that sort of this is an area because this is the vast subcontinent has an amazing sort of array of works produced by ordinary people, and this is generally understood, and when one considers India, these are the two aspects which are generally put together. But a third is usually not considered, you know, that was urban popular. And I had thought that if we did not put that together, then our - perhaps – view will be limited, and urban popular has sort of, you know, it overlaps urban modern at one level, and it overlaps rural tribal at the other level, both in terms of artists coming from small towns and villages, and become sort of a workforce, whatever you call them, and those who then graduate into the cities and produce stuff. You know, like even the cinema hoardings. It also, let us say, in the work of Bhupen and many other younger artists, you know, relates to the kind of popular culture that we have. So, I found the title which was rather colourful, you know, ‘Home, Shrine, Bazaar, Museum’. I thought that there are a few sites which one could indicate, and we worked together. We worked on that for a period of time, and I needed somebody to help me with the tribal rural objects. I had already chosen some of the areas which I wanted to represent in the rural tribal thing. I wanted sculpture from central India, that is from Bastar. I wanted the kind of work which would be related to cane and bamboo, and I had seen work of these women artists of Bihar. Then I also wanted something in terracotta. Jyotindra became a close associate and he helped me in this, Jyotindra Jain. Dr Jyotindra Jain, director of the crafts museum at that point of time, had put up a number of exhibitions and also held a number of collections, and in fact actually he has mounted works in a number of museums, and then he has reorganised the crafts museum in Delhi. So I selected artists from urban-modern and then we together selected artists from the tribal-rural, and then I also selected some from urban-popular. In fact, I wanted to put up a show of urban-popular. It had to be limited because there wasn’t that much space, but we did actually finally find the hoardings, works of a hoarding painter in Delhi, and Ram Rahman, a photographer, you know, set up a kind of a photo studio there and you could even have your photograph taken with cut-outs of Gandhi and cut-outs of Queen Elizabeth. So, it was fun that way.
Among the artists I had chosen several, you know, from older artists. There were, well, Nilima was one of them because I wanted somebody to represent that aspect of the miniature tradition, and she did a series of paintings, they are sort of specially made for that. The youngest artist, Shilpa Gupta, had done a video which was on a kind of, you know, it’s something which I am interested in, is the belief systems, and she had actually gone to various shrines, temples and gurudwaras in Bombay, and interviewed people, you know, about their view of the sacred, their view of actually, the word that she used, which is anyway, two-sided, dual meaning, which is a word called ‘blessed’. So, the whole thing was on blessed things, and it was a kind of a room in which the video was shown, but at the same time she had created objects with some kind of a crocheted cover, and she had taken it to all of them to bless it. So these were sort of blessed objects, which people, the viewers were supposed to collect, and they were given away. So, it was a kind of an interesting experiment. I wanted two or three other artists, but that didn’t materialise. One was the work of, three women artists actually. One was Sheba Chhachhi, who had worked on women in Kashmir, a large installation. I also wanted Mrinalini Mukherjee, who works in hemp fibre, to go with the work of the women artists of Bihar, because they also work in that kind of cane fibre, and I also wanted Navjot from Bombay who had been interacting for now a few years with the tribal artists of Bastar. I wanted the work of both her and the people, the artists with whom she had interacted. Unfortunately it didn’t work out because there wasn’t that much space. So, it remained only a wish list, but an exhibition did take place and there were these four exhibitions open 4 days, an interesting kind of an interaction between artists from Bangladesh, from Pakistan, from India, and moving from one to the other. I think it in a way broke some ice, and we were able to sort of, you know, talk to each other, to communicate. We had known some of that, but I think in a way it was the basis for all of us to come together and see what we are doing in our respective regions. Well, I thought that was a kind of a statement, and in some way it was a political statement and that is how, but I wish that we had produced a larger and bigger catalogue. That was not possible.
Timothy Hyman is a graduate of Slade School of Fine Art, London, in which he has also taught. In 1980 and 1982, he was Visiting Professor in Baroda, India. Timothy Hyman has curated many significant art exhibitions and has published articles and monographs on both European and Indian artists.