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Figures in my work


Exhibition in Paris and stories in my work
Gulammohammed Sheikh Artist
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Yes, Pompidou, it was the Festival of India and they had two artists, one was Vishwanathan who lived in Paris and my work, so this was shown in ’85. And a selection was made from the works from the late ‘60s until that time – so I think it was about 25 paintings, but all these paintings were there, ‘City for Sale’, ‘Revolving Roots’ and all others, plus earlier works and some new work that I had done during that time.

And did you find yourself seeing it differently? Wasn’t that the first retrospective you’d ever had?

I was quite... I didn’t know what to say because I’d never seen my work put together in that form, and it brought back all kinds of memories and, well, it was interesting to, sort of, you know, connect them in time and in space. But what I was interested in most was the latest painting that I was doing at that time. I had done a triptych, which was again relating to the place that is in a way Baroda and there I had multiple zones, as you say. But unlike The Times of India these were vertical paintings and there were horizontal zones and then, you know, zones overlapped. And so there were three that could be seen as individual paintings but altogether it was kind of a mix and there must have been dozens of zones in there – so this is what I was occupied with at that time. And I showed these three and then I know this great collector of Indian art called Chester Herwitz, who wanted to buy it. I was not too sure whether I wanted to give it to him because I was not sure whether I had finished the painting. And in fact, I brought it back from Pompidou and worked on it again and after about 2 years I finished that triptych and gave it to him. So there is always that thing that you do not know when a painting ends, you know, well start you can, you know, from whichever point you like to. But often there is either a new painting sitting waiting, or that the painting itself, you know, in a way remains or becomes more and more open ended and so you do not want to draw the line. But at some point of time you have to say, okay, I have done this much and the next would be in the next. So actually, soon after triptych I made a little painting on Kathasaritsagar stories. So the stories in that sense, I thought is it possible for one to draw from such a text and then also weave into it personal or, let’s say, contemporary stories, so something which would interest you because it whilst travelling in a bus from Baroda to Ahmedabad I was thinking of the structure of it. So I had three or four stories from Kathasaritsagar simultaneously in walking, sort of a journey, which was contemporary, you know, going along that way. So it was actually a kind of a bus, you know, into which this takes place, so there is actually it’s a reference to, in one corner, the window. And that led to exploration of ‘Arabian Nights’. And that story is perhaps familiar to those who have seen Pasolini’s ‘Arabian Nights’ – a story about love. It’s called ‘Story of Aziz and Aziza’. It’s a very tragic tale, it is also magical but it is something, you know, where it brings in all kinds of elements where a man who was to marry a woman goes to, if I’m not mistaken, to a tailor. And there he sees a woman who comes out of a balcony and he’s totally entranced and he forgets that he’s... you know, going to get married and he doesn’t move from there and that woman just disappears. And he doesn’t move until, you know, she comes again. And then the story unfolds that it is his would-be wife to whom he returns, whom he had not married, would solve the mystery of the woman who he had seen – and she in fact helps him and so it’s a long story. But that is one story I was quite entranced by and I remembered Pasolini’s portrayal of it and I thought let me try my hand. But there I have put both and Shahryar and Scheherazade at the bottom, the king and the storyteller. The storyteller is on the left, I think, left or right and so I incorporated the narrator and the listener and the story unfolds behind that. But these are only two paintings in which I’ve actually used some known stories, all of the stories are from different stories.

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, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: December 2008

Date story went live: 18 November 2010