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My monograph and writings on art


Politics and rivalry
Gulammohammed Sheikh Artist
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Well, I think in a situation like that, when you work together for a number of years then events unfold, you know, in which work is, work of one artist is projected and the others is not, there is a likelihood of some kind of a... what would I say – discord. Well, the first ideological difference initially was about political ideology, and in fact about sort of looking at everything in political terms, and especially in terms of left politics, left politics, and since Vivan was an ardent follower of that, you know. So, there was a time when we disagreed on some of the things. As regards personal kind of... what shall we say – sense of competitiveness, I don’t think so.

Can you just, I mean it slightly begs what was your position if it wasn’t left?

No, basically in the late 60s and early 70s, the period in which Vivan and Geeta, who were sort of very highly political, were sort of very keen that all of us adopted a kind of a view or a stand, you know, which was in some ways, was rooted in the left ideas. Well, none of us, you know, many of us were not actually groomed into any of these political ideologies. So, at that point of time, even the idea of including politics was something which we were uncomfortable with, very simply.

But in the course of time, as our ideas became clearer, and I think their attitude also in some ways came to understand or accept some of the positions which others had, but none of us had the rightist position. So in a way, ours was a kind of a Gandhian socialist position. I mean if I were to think of mine, mine would be sort of in a way centre of left, you know, that sort of a thing, but centre in that sense was not central in any other sense but Gandhian or, you know, that kind of ideology which I would connect with Jayaprakash Narayan. But basically Gandhian, and which is something which appeals to me a great deal. You know that the left is not very happy with Gandhi, you know. They have come to accept him now. But earlier I think his idea, you know, of, you know, including non-violence was not really, it didn’t go well with them. So, in a way there was that kind of a difference, and we were not overtly political. I mean our work perhaps had some, what shall we say, elements, you know, which could be read politically, like Bhupen’s work also could be read politically. But Bhupen felt even much more, you know, reluctant to talk about politics. You know, it remained a way. You know, he wanted to be on his own and do his thing, although he was doing something, you know, which was highly political, you know, in some way, like talking about, you know, petty traders, you know, was itself a political statement. But that is something which we were uncomfortable about in those days. But later on, I think when Geeta wrote and Vivan also, you know, in a way realised that there was a point at which we could actually share ideas, and, I think, in a way Kasauli paved the way for that. The dialogues at Kasauli were very crucial because at one level we met people who in some ways responded to what we said, and I think they also realised, you know, that the hardcore left would not perhaps be a kind of an issue. In some ways I think the left in India had changed, you know, in view of the kind of reality of India, you know, that unfolded in the course of time.

I think there was a kind of a... there was a kind of an understanding. But I must say that while I got far more interested in those things, and eventually realised that some of these issues, you know, could be tackled by a combination of Ghandian and left ideology, Bhupen I think remains almost apolitical. He did not wish to go into that. Well, if you are asking about... I mean, there was not genuine rivalry of that kind, but obviously there would be at some stage if one artist got prominence over certain things, the other artists would get slight... so there’s nothing... that’s human, but it was, it didn’t, it didn’t sort of become a big issue. We continued to be good friends and we saw each other’s work, we could criticise each other’s work. I miss Bhupen a great deal in the sense that Bhupen and I used to look at each other’s work and Bhupen, though was not very vocal, he showed his... you know, I mean he, by various ways, he would communicate to me what he liked of my work, what I was doing, and I invariably talked to him about his work, almost every work that he did which I happened to see, and it was a kind of a great bond which lasted almost until the end. In the last few years I think he was a bit... I think he drifted away. Either he wanted to drift away, live in a different kind of a... and he had his friends, you know, those who were looking after him. So I remember that the retrospective that was planned, we went and actually made a proposal that Geeta, Vivan and I, three of us would work on his retrospective and we will curate it. We would start that, he didn’t accept our proposition.  It was left to a gallery to curate.

You mean especially his Indian retrospective?

The retrospective, it happened after his death. It is a retrospective which was planned in his own lifetime. So, it was something, you know, which we thought that we could do. We all...

But his true retrospective had already happened in Europe.

He had already a retrospective...

Much more of a retrospective.

And very fine retrospective, excellent retrospective, which I made an effort to go and see it personally. I went to Madrid to see that show,  nothing else. Nilima and I both made a trip from Manchester, you know, to go to Spain, and I told Bhupen that it was one of the finest. I mean the great artist that he was, you know, that was projected in a very, very special way. So, hats off to the man who, sort of curated that show.

Enrique Juncosa.


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: 8 minutes, 29 seconds

Date story recorded: December 2008

Date story went live: 18 November 2010