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Using computers for my work and mappa mundi


The commission at Bhopal
Gulammohammed Sheikh Artist
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After The Times of India paintings that I had done I thought that, well, I have done my job, I have done a commissioned work. But suddenly this kind of an offer came from the government of Madhya Pradesh, that is central India, that they had a new legislative assembly building designed by Charles Correa and would I go and look at the place and think of a, you know, painting. I was happy, actually, Charles... I have known and I have admired his work and Charles came there and we saw the place together. And then the deal worked out, you know, the government was very pleasantly surprised, they had no restriction, nothing. We just want you to do this work so I said, wonderful, what do I do? So they said, you know, you plan it the way you like and we’ll help you in whichever way you need. So I was quite excited and I said this is something which is worth doing. I spent about six months or more, you know, on that and had assistants, you know, work with me. But I had not done such a large project, it was about 31 feet high and about 21 feet wide with a door in the middle, through it the legislators enter. So I had an architect, I had an engineer and my friend Nagji also helped me because he’s very good technically, with structure and all that. But then it had to be worked out and in what medium. Well, I was more familiar with oil than working on the wall because working on the wall would be really different and it might take much longer, and there was a time frame into which one had to work. So I decided and finally we came to making about 13 panels and these panels were then fitted onto the wall. And I also designed the door to an extent and put some, sort of, little images in between, you know, the wooden frames. Anyway, the idea was interesting because, you see, we had the legislators, you know... legislated? They all... sort of... this was the upper house. In some of the states we have both houses where the, you know, in some we don’t. So I thought, what would be the image, you know, for these legislators for a place which is a place for people, you know. It is something, you know, which was not a private space and it was not a commercial space – it was where not only legislators, but even people walked in. So there I planned at one level, the imagery which would be related to the place, that meant legislators themselves. So on left and right at the bottom I had the legislators on two sides, probably discussing. On top of the door I used the story of, there is a story of King Vikram, Vikramaditya, who when he... or is it, it’s the story in which the king really tries to, no, it was the throne of Vikram on which a king who had inherited it was about to, let us say, sit, occupy. And the throne had multiple dolls and the story goes that the dolls come out the moment they said, wait until I tell you this story, you must qualify yourself, you know, before you ascend this throne. So there are these sort of dolls which tell the story every time he begins to sit on the throne. I thought it was a useful thing for the legislators too, so to invoke that I actually painted, sort of some flying figures and a kind of a big chair. And then there is a panorama of Madhya Pradesh and India. I had done some research, I even sent one of my assistants to go to various towns of Madhya Pradesh, we got photographs. I read on Madhya Pradesh, I read stories, I read some legends and all that and out of it then eventually, cooked up a kind of a, what you call it, tree of life? Because that was another idea it was simmering in my mind for a long time that, to paint a life-sized tree – well, here it was about 30 feet, not that I painted a tree but something structurally was like a tree. So it all sort of went around and there are images floating all about. It worked out well. I had no opportunity to see it actually installed until it was installed there. Such an experience, you know, was impossible because in Baroda we couldn’t find a place where it could be actually, you know, installed, even briefly. And strangely, funnily, I saw it putting it on the ground and I climbed a big ladder and so it was a kind of a reverse view of the mural. Then later, when it was installed, I kept my fingers crossed because I had not seen it. Well, luckily it worked out okay and, but the most interesting part was that I had made three paintings, three maquettes for it. And I had sort of discounted the first two and the third, used. And since it had to be enlarged from that maquette we had the small image and the larger ones for the actual size mural. It was very funny, very strange, I don’t know many painters who would know and I realised at that point of time that you can’t just enlarge it, enlarge a small work to that scale. There were many things which looked okay, but there were several others, you know, which when enlarged changed meaning. The moment you enlarge that thing it went up the eye level. All those that were at the eye level seemed to be okay but the moment it went, let’s say, to 7 feet or 10 feet or 15 feet and then 30 and 31 feet, quite high. The same image which was that size which became like this, and when you looked at it from a distance it didn’t seem okay – so there was a change from the small to the big, so it’s not identical. But that was a very instructive experience, I must say that I learnt a lot from that that I could, you know, if one had to do a mural one had actually to design it on that scale – one will have to actually work it out. And perhaps, see it physically when you stand in front of it – it’s quite different then if you see it in a smaller scale.

Would you like to have drawn on the wall?

I would have, yes, if it were possible and if you had been given two years to do it I would have done so.

In some ways you do seem to have been very fortunate in having these big containers for this vast project... is your...

Well, I think this is something which has been part of my make-up and I thought that one should not be fussy about things. And if this comes your way one should take up the challenge and do whatever one can. And I was happy that it’s a public place. I’ve always wanted to do something on a public place so this came my way and I’m glad that, you know, those who commissioned it, you know, were also very... I must say they were really enlightened.

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: 9 minutes, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: December 2008

Date story went live: 18 November 2010