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A journey called art

Coaxed by scholar-administrator Sudhakar Sharma, veteran artist Amarnath Sehgal travels down memory lane



SMILE FOR ART Amarnath Sehgal and Sudhakar Sharma may bemoan loss of aesthetics in art but they do share delightful moments surrounded by beautiful works of art. Photo: S. SUBRAMANIUM

He is known for landing himself in controversy and fighting till the bitter (better?) end. But few will tell you that he is a genuinely generous humanist, with a heart of gold - rather like the gold sculptures that he created for a Swiss firm. As one wanders through his studio with stacks of beautiful paintings and populated with bronzes of well-known personalities, one can't help but admire the sophistication of the abstract forms that rub shoulders - quite literally - with the figures. Age may have cast a shadow on his speech, but has not dulled the mind, for that sparkles through the prism of memories.

Alka Raghuvanshi brings together the painter-sculptor-poet Amarnath Sehgal with the art scholar-administrator Sudhakar Sharma, Secretary of the Lalit Kala Akademi, who has managed to bring about a professional approach in running the institution with honesty, integrity and a rare sensitivity towards arts and artists. The two people from different generations go through different time zones, like the sky and the sea, juxtaposed inextricably together and yet complete in themselves.

Sudhakar: I was admiring the bust of Mulkraj Anand that you gave the LKA, but would have preferred to have got the only version!

Amarnath: Normally I wouldn't have made another one, but Mulkraj was a dear friend, so when his centre was coming up, I couldn't say no. Whatever way I express my gratitude I am happy to do so.

Sudhakar: You have managed to create quite a few controversies about your own work. When your sculpture was taken down from the Vigyan Bhavan walls you went to court.

Amarnath: I am convinced that an artiste has a moral right to his work, even if it has been paid for by an individual or an organisation. Someone had even done a doctoral thesis on that sculpture and since it was in the public domain, I felt that it couldn't be just junked.

Sudhakar: Actually we as a nation are in the enviable position where state patronage for the arts is still being extended and there are institutions in place to support little known forms of art, unlike other countries where all art has perforce to be market driven and a hard-core business proposition. This time when the 11th Indian triennial was invited to be part of the Florence biennale, it was a proud moment. Indian art was getting its rightful place on the world art map.

Amarnath: Art situations are changing at a very rapid pace. How are we keeping pace?

Sudhakar: With newer mediums and dimensions opening up, Indian art needs to maintain its edge with meaningful exchanges, updating technical know-how in conservation, documentation, security, weeding out fakes, online linkages with museums and with other collective moves. When Europe and Africa can have their own art hubs, why not Asia? Publications and other documentation will go a long way in making inroads and establishing India's positioning.

Amarnath: World map is a laudable aim, but what about other towns of India, shouldn't we make inroads there?

Sudhakar: Of course! Regular international cultural exchanges and participation are but an indication of India's global positioning. Our Lucknow centre is a step in that direction - we got such an overwhelming response from the city when we sent about seven international exhibitions there - for the first time in the city's history. These are important steps towards decentralising to evolve and expand. We made significant inroads with our public-private partnership as part of the art mart at the 11th triennial.

Sudhakar: Which are the sculptures that you have made which are of national importance in your opinion?

Amarnath: Two of them - one on the population explosion and the other on terrorism; both are subjects that no Government has been able to curb.

Sudhakar: Sculpture is a tough medium. There are too many unforeseeable and uncontrollable parameters. Doesn't the element of surprise bother you?

Amarnath: My entire life has been spent doing this but that surprise is a professional hazard! But you know, I must be the only sculptor who is not a part of the LKA collection.

Sudhakar: Why have called your book on poetry "The Lonesome Journey"?

Amarnath: When the society doesn't understand your work, it is a lonesome journey.

Sudhakar: How do you want to preserve your work?

Amarnath: Now that you have reminded me, raat mein neend kam aayegi!

Sudhakar: Art seems to be heading skyward as far as prices are concerned. How do you react to this art as investment?

Amarnath: I feel very unhappy, but I don't say anything. How far can anyone go? Husain did 30 paintings in 30 days worth 30 crores - is he a machine? His friends must be very unhappy at my observation, and I'm no messiah, but moral values have really taken a beating. Bhaichaara has all but vanished and jealousy is the name of the game. Also we love each other too less. I always feel that it is merit of the work and not names that are important.

Sudhakar: Exactly. Then it is the hype behind the art that overtakes the aesthetics. This is what we at the LKA are attempting to address and put Indian art on the world map. But corrective measures need to be taken, the rules and laws are half a century old, they need to be revisited and reviewed. Too many undefined areas and there are no parameters for functioning. And there is over emphasis on personalities. Despite the huge outreach, identity is a huge issue.

Amarnath: Sure. In all this art suffers. I feel that one should be subservient to one's aims and ideals. Deal with them, live with them, life is a beautiful experiene.

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