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Luminous, vibrant and spiritual: Celebrating the works of Manjit Bawa on his birthday

July 28, On This Day


Known for “luminous works” that provided “a striking portrayal of spirituality and simplicity”, Indian artist Manjit Bawa is also known as “a modernist master of the figurative genre”.

Born on July 28, 1941, in Dhuri, Punjab, Bawa extensively “drew on Indian mythology and Sufi philosophy to paint vibrant depictions of the Hindu deities Kali and Shiva, animals, and nature… (his) work explores themes of peaceful coexistence between humans and animals”. It is said that the artist reinvented the free-floating form, which later became figures, by incorporating his early study of the forms and colors of Rajput and Pahari miniature paintings.

(Interestingly, several online resources also cite his birth date as July 30, 1941.)

Bawa displayed a distinctive use of color — often a palette of vibrant Indian hues like crimsons, yellows, and violets — that is said to have been grounded overall in his formal training as a serigrapher and printer in London.

In fact, notable fellow artist Jagdish Swaminathan invited him to start a printmaking department in Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal.

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Before this stint, Bawa had studied at the College of Art, New Delhi, between 1958 and 1963, under notable names in the field of art and academia like Somnath Hore, Rakesh Mehra, Dhanaraj Bhagat, B.C. Sanyal and Abani Sen.

Striking color fields seem to render the forms Bawa depicts as almost weightless — the figures are delicate and vulnerable, and “his exploration of form and space draws a viewer into an intimate experience of the artist’s world”, write critics. The artist is also known for his subtle gradation of color use of chiaroscuro.

Music was an intrinsic part of Bawa’s life as well, he played tabla and the flute, while his wife learnt the sitar. In fact, the flute formed one of the notable motifs of his works, such as in the bright yellow painting ‘Untitled (Krishna and Cow)’ (1998), which sold for $780,500 posthumously at a Christie’s auction in 2017.

Activism was another inalienable part of his life, and he had once organized a peace march during anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in 1991, as also been a founder-member of the Committee for Communal Harmony in New Delhi.

Bawa died on December 29, 2008, aged 67, after spending three years in a coma following a stroke.

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