There is a saying which goes like this- ‘The idea is not the inspiration; the inspiration is the idea.’
What I witnessed today was a glorious manifestation of this in the form of paintings by Amrita Sher-Gil. The exhibition mapped the life of this amazing artist, who with her ideas of self-determination, sincerity and creative thinking, was well ahead of her times. Whether you are an art enthusiast or no, the story of Amrita will enthral you no matter.
Amrita Sher-Gil was known for her short but experientially rich life. Her work is dotted by a remarkable variety of subjects, styles and representations. She was just 29 years old, but in her short span of life, she had paved the way for modernism to inescapably seep in Indian art. Born of a Sikh father and a Hungarian mother in Budapest, she was nurtured by the cross-currents of two distinctly different cultures. Moreover, her training in Paris, at the Ecole Des Beaux Arts and her journey back to India paved the way for a successful amalgamation of the best of both the western and the eastern worlds- the modern art as we call it.
Today, the exhibition at NGMA (National Gallery of Modern Art), Bengaluru celebrated the immense achievement of this modern woman, who went on to influence a generation of artistes.
The exhibition traced her journey from the genesis of her art, as a student in Paris to its triumphant culmination in India, years later. As you will see, Amrita Sher-Gil sought inspiration from a variety of subjects. Sometimes it was a woman’s sensuousness; sometimes she turned the gaze upon herself.. As she evolved as a painter, she started examining the asymmetrical aspects of the society- the plight of the poor and the downtrodden. Her paintings empathise with their conflicted lives. Another aspect that is prominent is the Eastern and Western art influences carefully interwoven to spellbinding effects.
The exhibition had four nodal points:
Threshold showcased Sher-Gil’s preliminary works, while studying in Paris. When she started out at a young age of 16, her forte was the intense scanning of the human form in its diversity and divergence. There are a lot of portraits, still lifes and nude stories of women and men that you will see from this period.
In Icon and Iconoclaustic, you see how Amrita has progressed in her ideas. The woman here is not a passive subject but the one who steers her own destiny. What is noteworthy is the way Sher-Gil brings together the sensuousness of the Indian women and the frustration of their truncated lives in these paintings.
Then comes the period of Hungarian Manifestation. These are some of the works by Amrita when she was in Hungary. Her first visit was during her stay in Paris and her second was when she married her first cousin, Victor Egan in 1938. Here, influenced by Hungarian artists like Istvan Szonyi of the post Nagybanya School and the Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel, she frequently experimented with colour and form.
The Indian Journey is the culmination where you will see that her style of expression took a completely new turn. Her transformative use of local tradition like Ajanta and Ellora murals and aligning them with modernism, her changing colour palette, her choice of themes all bear testimony to this.
“I am an individualist, evolving a new technique, which, though not necessarily Indian in the traditional sense of the word, will yet be fundamentally Indian in spirit. With the eternal significance of form and colour I interpret India and, principally, the life of the Indian poor on the plane that transcends the plane of mere sentimental interest.”
It is this versatility of her work, her experimentation of the visual language, and the way she explored the marriage of modern aesthetics and Indian reality of her times, that has which raised her to iconic heights.