Art News & Views

Cartography of Narratives, Contemplations on Time


by Dr.Seema Bawa

New Delhi. The space without or outside the creative artist is infinite, but the finite vision of the human perceives it as limited. The inscape or space within has no such limits. The eternal now, histories and memories and the entire imagined space can exist here. In the inscape, space is the “self” and not the other. The sensitive artist often seeks to depict this contemplation or Upasana of the self as space in canvas which again is essentially finite. The solo show of Ghulam Mohammad Sheikh has this underlying deeply symbolic statement in the many works on display externalized through formats such as Kaavads, maps, & digital books. Whether it is in the foldable homes of the Kaavads, which is at were carry the entire space and time of a narrative through different layers or whether it is in the microcosmic reflection of the macrocosm through the map.

A kaavad (a mobile wooden shrine) contained painted narratives in multiple layers which the Kaavadiya Bhats of Rajasthan, used as a prop for their storytelling. These big and small kaavads which could be folded and carried away also evoke the nomadic versus settlement dichotomy.

Medieval mappa-mundi spatialized belief system in the form of the map to emphasize their universality and encompassing nature. Sophisticated mappa mundi had the space and detail to illustrate Biblical Events, history, mythology, flora, fauna and exotic races or were encyclopedic. Sheikh uses this format as imagined and real spaces in which to locate contemporary concerns and consciousness.

Despite the variable sizes of the works ranging from small miniaturized images in the book, or a modeled papier-mâché relief, the scale of the works is nevertheless monumental. However despite the sheer monumentality there is richness of miniature details and intricacy of delineation as if part has a detailed role in the epic unfolding of events both spatial and temporal.

The references that populate Sheikh's artistic creative world derive from a rich varied and erudite sources ranging from the painterly, philosophic, popular and folk traditions. His materials too are conventional combined with post modern digital age technique. The colours used in recreating images derived from miniature tradition or sculptural art are rich and evocative.

There is a reading, re-reading events, histories and stories of everyday lives in his monumental installation CITY: Memory, Dreams, Desire, Statues and Ghosts: Return of Hiuen Tsang, the figure of Hiuen Tsang and a city. It is envisioned as the return of Hiuen Tsang to the City (in India, perhaps Gujarat) where the city is itself split into two  the standing panels map as the living city marked by recent violence and the floor panels as an archaeological site, marking the time when Hiuen Tsang came to India in search of enlightenment and scriptures that showed the right path.

One of his works, a digital collage accordion book Churning, is derived from the oft visualized narrative of Amrita Manthan or churning of the ocean in search for amrita or nectar of immortality. Sheikh, here, uses images of royal personages from miniatures, the devas and asuras from Khmer art, the personas of Buddha, Gandhi and Hitler in a narrative that goes through a purgatory process of progression and regression. The linear event in Sheikh's depictions is secondary to the depiction of what the event means and there appears an eternal simultaneity of events.

Ghulam Mohammad Sheikh as an artist engages with the forces of history through his sensitive activism that invites praxis while at the same time his works image form an authentic, erudite though contemplative aesthetic practice, a quality rare in contemporary art.

Image Courtesy: The Artist

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