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Inter-faith marriages and difficulties being a Muslim


Maps and palimpsests in my work
Gulammohammed Sheikh Artist
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Well, mapping is kind of an extension of journeys, in a sense you know, because that’s been my old hobby horse. So eventually I ended up using maps, that also is the story perhaps we can consider. So in mapping you have, it’s simultaneous, you know, they’re placed next to each other. They overlap at times and then you go through them, you make your journeys then and the idea is that it would allow the viewer to make as many journeys as possible. So there are multiple points of entry and exit, you can go and come out and go again, but make your journey, not necessary circular journeys, all kinds, you know, we can indicate it in different ways. It’s nothing unusual, it’s something that I have learnt or seen in many paintings, you know, especially you know, both in Indian painting or in Chinese or...

In Bruegel?

So many paintings, you know, Bruegel, there are...


Lorenzetti, Duccio, you know, they are all, in all of them you make these journeys. Literally, you know, it is like assuming, sort of, a kind of a role, you know, in the painting that you find yourself in the same shape and form as some of the characters and then actually walk with them. So the painting in that sense opens, you know, and it’s a kind of magic world in which you enter and it is possible to do it over and over again, that kind of a journey, multiple journeys. So journey in that sense, if one had to think in terms of space then it is that kind of a laying out and then all the regions, you know, that gradually open. Well, I’m equally interested in palimpsest in the sense that I like things one upon each other, if they’re kind of layered. So there are things, you know, which perhaps are, you know, invisibly visible or what would you call it, you know, they are there in some way then and you begin to look at things. So in some paintings I’ve actually tried that, like I’ve used the image of Kabir, the poet you know, that’s from a late 18th century Mughal painting – it’s a very beautiful painting, it’s in the British Museum collection – using the head of Kabir and then planting a variety of images either from his poetry or cooked up by myself, I have placed them on top of his face – that can be that way several other layers. And further to that each image might also suggest another layer so within that, you know, you could have multiple kind of layers. Yes true, you know, these are the things, you know, which are part of my sort of very, every time I draw something either I remove it, I redraw it, I’ll paint over it, I scribble on it and I paint again, then I bring an image from somewhere else and plant on top of it. So this is the process, you know, which interests me greatly. You know, this is something which I think is also a bit like journeys because then you discover things because it’s something, at times, unpredictable. You begin somewhere, then you wash up the whole thing and remove everything, you scribble or you’re not even sure what you are doing. And I think it’s a kind of a daily exercise, you know, you keep on working. And I like this both in, I used to do it in oil where it was easier in some ways, but I also found it possible in water colour. I used a thicker, Arches board which allows me to wash it fully and it’s an excellent paper because it doesn’t warp or it doesn’t rub off and you can redraw, repaint. Ideally, it would be like what Indian painting is, which my wife, Nilima, is doing, but if I were to explain it it’s like you draw, there’s a layer, and then you put a wash of white on top of it and then you redraw. Then you have another wash perhaps of slightly different colour and then you keep on adding. Then you add colour and then you have gold on it, then you, so that way there are layers after layers after layers, so most, I mean, when I look at Muchal painting I find that it’s not flat, you know. Even physically it is not flat, there are so many layers. All you have to do is just to look at it carefully and you will discover that there’s something which was on the very first layer still visible and then there are multiple layers that emerge. And then also, as we talked about, so many hands but that makes if fascinating and it’s very, very in way, also delicious. It’s like peeling a fruit in different ways. Somewhere it is in the middle, somewhere it is at the top, somewhere it is right inside, so a mango is different than a coconut, you know. In that sense the experience is of actually physicality and of savouring – actually something you know, which you can savour with your senses, different senses. Sometimes it allows you to, you know, taste the taste of it, then at times it is the smell of it, at times it is the texture of it. And I think, in a way, the business of painting is also in some ways relating to all these sensory experiences – very strong sensory experiences. And I think most paintings allow you to do that. So palimpsest at one level if it is like digging or archaeology, it is also like, you know, kind of experiencing it physically, you know, something which you can actually taste.

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.

Listeners: Timothy Hyman

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.

Duration: 6 minutes, 55 seconds

Date story recorded: December 2008

Date story went live: 18 November 2010