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Kaarawaan and Other Works: Gulam Mohammed Sheikh’s Anecdote of History and Memory

The eminent artist Gulam Mohammed Sheikh’s solo show, Kaarawaan and Other Stories is displayed at Vadehra Art Gallery. This is Sheikh’s first significant exhibition in New Delhi in thirteen years. Bikaner House will host the exhibition from February 19 to March 12, 2024.

Gulammohammed Sheikh’s work is based on an in-depth investigation of myths, cultural histories, and creative traditions that transcend traditional boundaries and forge a unique path that combines tradition with modern expression. As a proficient poet, researcher, and Artist, he has collaboratively shaped his work; a first convergence occurred with the four paintings he contributed to the 1981 show Place for People.

Sheikh encapsulates the essence of art practice, which explores several fundamental dichotomies in art and culture, such as the relationship between history and memory and the confluence of varied sensibilities in Indian art. The Artist states, “The world as it came to me… came almost invariably manifold, plural or at least dual in form.” Sheikh was born in 1937, and since enrolling in MS University’s Faculty of Fine Art in 1955, he has resided and worked in Baroda chiefly. Sheikh attended the London-based Royal College of Art in the 1960s.

Conference of Birds-Gulam Mohammed Sheikh/ Credit: Vadehra Art Gallery

Gulammohammed Sheikh’s mastery of sculptural and painting forms stems from his profound immersion into cultural narratives. He drew inspiration for these pieces from his immediate environment, his recollections, and global art to produce images that “open up passages between the personal and the social, the present and the past, the near and the distant. With it, his paintings became, like the
world he lived in, a palimpsest of many temporalities and cultures that speak to us in multiple tongues,”– writes Professor R. Siva Kumar, an art historian and curator, in the exhibition essay.

Since then, Sheikh’s work continues to offer us narratives and symbols, voyages and fellow travellers through “all-embracing motifs like the tree of life and map of the world with a history spread across several cultures; formats like the accordion book and the Kavaad that allow multiple open-ended readings; and figures like Kabir and Gandhi, who embraced the worldly and the spiritual with natural ease and strove to bring communities together […] That the world hurtles from one crisis to another compels Sheikh to turn his artistic practice into an ever-expanding endeavour at remaking the world as a place of hope and coming together, working against all odds […] This current exhibition, with an imposing ark of kindred artists and poets and precious cargo of cultural memories negotiating turbulent waves; a large map of our troubled world with St. Francis and Kabir flanking it like guardian saints; double-faced panels with images offering countervailing visions; and small Kavaads that open up the world and the city for intimate scrutiny is the latest chapter in this ongoing endeavour,” writes Professor R. Siva Kumar.

Kaarawaan-Gulam Mohammed Sheikh / Credit: Vadehra Art Gallery

Gulammohammed Sheik readily incorporates art historical allusions from Persian and European traditions, demonstrating the presence of both visual civilizations in his universe. Regarding his artistic process, Sheikh has clarified that his paintings culminate in various stages he goes through while creating them. Sheik presents two distinct facets of time: the duration of a painting’s period, which is its creation process, and the existence of the historical and other references in his works.

The Kochi–Muziris Biennale (curated by Jitish Kallat) (2014), the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai (2012), the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi (2012), the Faculty of Fine Arts, Vadodara (2019, 2016), the Guild at Gallery White, Vadodara (2018), the Anant Art Gallery at Bikaner House, New Delhi (2018), Threshold Art Gallery (2016), and many more solo and group exhibitions are just a few of the notable group shows and solo exhibitions in which Sheikh has taken part.

Majnun in the Forest-Gulam Mohammed Sheikh/ Credit: Vadehra Art Gallery

Important museum collections around the world include the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, the Peabody Essex Museum in the United States, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi, the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum in Japan, and numerous private collections.

The Rebellious Artworld of Gulam Mohammed Sheikh

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