The British Museum is keen to acquire Satish Gujral’s works on the Partition theme to add to its ‘From Indus Valley Civilisation to Independence’ section
In an interview with Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr, RASEEL GUJRAL ANSAL talks about recent developments in Britain involving her father’s work. Excerpts:
It happens rarely that an artist becomes relevant in a new social context because his work meets the demands of a new age. But this has happened with Satish Gujral, the prominent Indian artist of independent India, whose work has found new relevance in a Britain facing up to the challenges of a multi-racial society and the tensions between different ethnic groups. Gujral in his time was part of the circle of influential people in the Delhi of the 1950s, where he had access to Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter, Indira Gandhi. He met Nehru when he had to get the then prime minister’s approval for his portrait of Lala Lajpat Rai. His brother, Inder Kumar Gujral, was part of the Congress party led by Indira Gandhi and how he fell out with her during the Emergency is a tale of charming political and social gossip.
Satish Gujral’s daughter and architect Raseel Gujral Ansal finds herself in the unenviable position of dealing with the artistic legacy of her father. She is involved with the Kiran Gujral Legacy Trust (KGLT), which is set up in her mother’s name, Kiran Gujral. The trust has forged collaboration with educational entrepreneur Amreesh Andrew Chandra and his project, Canvas’ and with Lord Kamlesh Patel in Great Britain.
Two themes—disability and Partition—have emerged in connection with Satish Gujral’s work in England this year, which also happens to be the 75th year of Indian independence. Tell us about Lord Kamlesh Patel, Yorkshire cricket and Gujral’s paintings on sports. How did it happen?
The Kiran Gujral Legacy Trust (KGLT) has been instituted under the patronage of my mother, Kiran Gujral. We aim to articulate KGLT’s vision through the medium of Satish Gujral’s art. The core tenets are tolerance, compassion, and the triumph of individual endeavour against adversity and discrimination. We aim to align our contribution with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) pertaining to Good Health & Well-Being, Quality Education and Gender Equality through strategic partnerships.
KGLT shares a strong bond and connection with Amreesh Andrew Chandra, founder of Canvas, who was very inspired by Satish Gujral’s
life and what it stands for. Consequently, he felt compelled to align with KGLT’s philanthropic endeavours, to create forums for (the art) to be viewed and understood by a large cross-section of society.
How did Lord Kamlesh Patel, who became the head of Yorkshire Cricket Club, involve you and your father’s work in dealing with the issue of racial discrimination?
Lord Patel’s connection is two-fold with the project, Canvas. Primarily, he is an advocate of the SDGs which can be seen through all his areas of work. His work in sports, mental well-being, gender equality, domestic abuse is all in line with the SDGs.
I was a keynote speaker at a function where a book on the programme of Canvas was launched by Lord Patel, in the House of Lords in London on July 12 because KGLT is the only charitable trust from India which represents art and culture and its manifesto is aligned with the UN’s SDGs.
Satish Gujral is rare among artists in painting sporting action!
The country watches cricket with a consuming passion that brings daily life almost to a standstill and there’s the music of the body playing to different rhythms. Gujral too felt caught by this physical vibrancy, this whole new area of movement, rhythm, and physical passion. So, he painted as he saw it in sport, in the muscled rhythms of winning and losing, in the leaps of triumph and the downward curves of the body’s disappointment. Normally, an artist gets identified with certain themes and feels impelled to remain faithful to those. Vision means discovery, challenging a new element, and as Gujral discovered the area of the sporting body, he dared to touch it, feel it, express it, and paint it.
Anyone who sees the muscled tension in the throw of the cricket ball, the leap of the player to capture it, the rivalry of the two bodies caught in nervous tension, the excitement and the interplay of the physical, the sheer, almost sexual ecstasy of movement, the intensity is galvanizing. This is the penultimate work of a man who has been entombed in a soundless state for eight decades. He has walked the valley of silence. So much indeed that it sometimes made him doubt his own existence. In this series, he seeks compensation in motion, in rhythm, in the sheer genius of the play of the human body, and its ultimate poetry. The intensity of this aspect of his brush with sport once again compensates for the silence within.
What about the British Museum and the Partition drawings of Satish Gujral?
We have been in dialogue with the British Museum where the senior curator, Dr Imma Ramos, expressed the Museum’s desire to acquire Partition drawings for the reimagined South Asian galleries which depict India from the Indus Valley Civilisation to Independence. Currently, the museum has one Partition print of Gujral’s on display, in the segment on Indian independence. He is the only contemporary artist shown. In addition, there is a depiction of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr B.R. Ambedkar and Nehru’s famous “Tryst with Destiny” speech. Hence the desire to acquire more original drawings of Gujral on Partition, to ensure that at any given time there is a constant showcasing of the artworks.
It would be an honour to have this effectuated during the 75th year of India’s independence. We believe we are turning full circle: The British imperial rule in India, the resultant partition of the country, Satish Gujral expressing the trauma through his partition artworks, our family’s lifelong commitment to the rehabilitation of women and children impacted due to the Partition with the money from the sale of the artworks to the museum going to the Nari Niketan my grandmother set up in Jalandhar, Punjab to help women and children affected by Partition.