After a successful showing at NGMA New Delhi in October 2017, Art & Soul Gallery brings over 150 paintings and sculptures of the eminent Indian artist to NGMA Mumbai.
The exhibition is open until 15 April 2018, with an accompanying book launch, panel discussions and walkthroughs planned from 12 March onwards.
Six decades of remarkable versatility and multiplicity
Manu Parekh (b. 1939) is one of India’s most inventive painters and among the country’s best-known contemporary artists. It is therefore fitting that a retrospective of this scale has been organised at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Mumbai with the support of Art & Soul Gallery, Mumbai and in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
The exhibition was inaugurated by Pritzker Prize-winning Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi with renowned artist Sudhir Patwardhan releasing the accompanying book Manu Parekh – 60 Years of Selected Works, which includes over 250 of his works, tracing Parekh’s career from the 1960s. Commenting on the artist’s importance, Adwaita Gadanayak, Director General, National Gallery of Modern Art said:
This exhibition is the first comprehensive survey of artworks spanning nearly six decades of a long creative career that demonstrates the depth and diversity of Parekh’s practice […]. Manu Parekh is an important modernist known for his remarkable work related to the city of Varanasi that reflects upon his knowledge of the landscape, mapping significant sites of personal and social importance.
Parekh received his diploma in Drawing and Painting from the Sir J. J. School of Art, Mumbai, in 1962, and has held several solo shows and participated in a number of group exhibitions in India and overseas. He has been Member of the Society of Contemporary Artists, Kolkata; Member of the General Council, Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi; and Member of the Advisory Committee, National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. He was awarded the President of India’s Silver Plaque and the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society Award, New Delhi (1972); the National Award from the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi (1982); and the Padma Shri in 1992. Parekh received an honorary Doctorate in Literature from Rabindra BharatiUniversity, Kolkata, in 2013. The artist lives and works in New Delhi.
Inventiveness, energy and the ability to stir emotions
Parekh’s early work explored the relationship between man and nature, which according to him was an energetic link that had to be celebrated. Since then, his artistic practice has evolved to incorporate multiplicities in their subject matter, as Parekh absorbed the influences of the socio-political and cultural environment of his times, into his work. His paintings have always provoked viewers to take notice of the world around them through the emotion, pain and anguish expressed in the subjects of his paintings. His colours and forms exude a volatile energy that can barely be contained within the confines of the canvas, and it becomes an extension of his personality. It is this exuberance, vitality and monumentality that is visible in all the 150 works on display at the exhibition, many of which also have a strong underlying message to communicate to the onlooker.
Commenting on the unique space Parekh’s practice occupies in the cultural landscape of contemporary Indian art, Tarana Khubchandani, Director, Art & Soul Gallery says:
To gauge the breadth and depth of Manubhai’s (Parekh’s) oeuvre is unfathomable. His journey has been long – deeply enriched and influenced by his diverse experiences, amidst crafts people in rural India, and these are now woven onto his canvases. His preoccupation with the landscape of Benaras is well known, while his portraits and seminal works on the Bhagalpur blindings, add a lesser known facet to this collection of artworks, marking 60 years of his journey. We also present his sketch books, which are fascinating narratives of his day to day life and weave a story of their own, no less fascinating than a dialogue with this mesmerising personality.
A diversity of form, material and subject matter
“Manu Parekh: 60 Years of Selected Works” uncovers his exploration of ritual, the legendary paintings inspired by the Bhagalpur Blindings and his enduring fascination with the holy city of Varanasi, which he has explored in great depth over many decades. The latter is evident in Banaras in Red and Banaras Landscape VII (2005), large works characterised by vivid colours and prominent lines that are an integral part of Parekh’s practice. These canvases exude the energy of the subject matter that the artist attempts to capture, as do the diptychs Enlightened Stone I and II (2010). The exhibition also includes a late career highlight, a monumental work of ‘heads’, completed in 2017, based on Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.
Parekh has always admitted to being very strongly influenced by his surroundings. His stay in the city of Kolkata, for instance, drew him to Santiniketan and the old masters of Indian art, Ramkinkar Baij and Rabindranath Tagore. The early years of his practice reflect an appreciation of their work more at a perceptual level than a stylistic one, and the influences of the Santiniketan ideology have always urged him to delve deeper into the thoughts that informed his own oeuvre. This is evident in both his early works such as The Dancer (1961), which resembles the wash style popularised by the Bengal School, as well as in his bronze casts from 2006, where Parekh has taken elements of aesthetics from the vernacular folk forms of Bastar in Chattisgarh.
Through its exploration of the rich body of Parekh’s work, this retrospective provides unique insights into one of India’s most important painters. Commenting on this, Indian artist, curator and writer Sumesh Sharma says:
As an artist, Manu Parekhs career has shown a diverse section of form and material. Parekh formed his career after independence in an India that reflected great divisions and confluences as well as a tryst with numerous tragedies and he sought his solace in the metaphysical, much like the millions of Indians who followed similar paths to explain complex lives.
The Bhagalpur Blindings, when 31 under-trials were blinded by the police as a form of justice, moved him to create a series of paintings, starting in the 1980s, in which he went back to the traditional folk art of Madhubani as a source of inspiration. Parekh marked his protest visually and dramatically with a series of portraits such as Man-Made Blindness (1990), Man-Made Suffering III (1990) and Looking Beyond (1990) depicting what could have been the faces of the prisoners who had been blinded.
Another interesting exploration of subject matter is Saint Souza (2014), in which Parekh anoints the internationally acclaimed Indian artist Francis Newton Souza with a sainthood. This was a tongue-in the-cheek action on the part of the artist, as Souza’s work was always considered quite irreverent and was held in disdain by the clergy in India, despite having been accepted and admired by the art loving public around the world.
It is this diversity of subject matter, technique, form and medium that keeps the visitor visually engaged at the exhibition, whether it is the traditional folk elements in his sculptural installations or the four giant sketchbooks on display from the artist’s personal archives. Speaking about his practice in an interview with cultural theorists Ranjit Hoskote and Nancy Adajania, for “The Dialogue Series”, Parekh says:
The first, the only and the biggest challenge for a painter is to bring into his work what he thinks. We think so many things, but to bring it into our work is a strenuous process of thought, research and execution.
“Manu Parekh: 60 Years of Collected Works” is on view from 12 March to 15 April 2018 at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Sir Cowasji Jehangir Public Hall, M.G. Road, Fort, Mumbai 400032.
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