It is never too late or enough to remember with gratitude the great legends that India has produced over the years. These role models, with their sheer hard work and a deep commitment to society, have been instrumental in steering the nation towards a greater common good. Delhi-based artist Rita Jhunjhunwala pays a tribute to these extraordinary men and women, belonging to a varied spectrum of society including arts and science, politics and business, religion and spirituality through her upcoming exhibition titled Immortals that will be held at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi from 1-5 October. The exhibition includes 35 large works in acrylic and charcoal on paper, acrylic and mixed media on canvas and sculptural installations in wood.
“This exhibition of portraits of some extraordinary people, who are no more with us, is my humble way of paying tribute to them. While greatness is certainly no exclusive preserve of our civilisation—as Rabindranath Tagore thought, one should ‘glory in the light of the lamp lit anywhere’, I have chosen to portray only Indians for the time being. For me, its recovery of faith in humanity—at a time when our moral, spiritual, cultural and social values are rapidly shrinking,” says Jhunjhunwala. This is her 18th solo exhibition.
These portraits are not merely photo-realistic renditions of these legends. Jhunjhunwala places these portraits against backgrounds that are executed in her trademark brush strokes, subtle and evocative of emotions, incidents and symbols associated with each person. For instance, Gandhi’s portrait, incidentally also her first in this series, recreates the time of the Salt March, while another candid work captures the Mahatma’s affectionate relationship with Jawaharlal Nehru. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s portrait is replete with symbols of strength, Subhash Chandra Bose’s portrait lights up with the colours of nationalism and J R D Tata’s portrait is easily recognisable as that of a man of industry. Tagore gazes calmly into a cascade of books, while Mother Teresa is all about compassion and harmony. Among other giants featured in the exhibition are M. F. Husain, Kishori Amonkar, Swami Vivekananda, Dr C. V. Raman, Ramkrishna Paramhans, Amrita Shergil, A.P.J Abdul Kalam, among others.
“These, and many more great personalities and their ideas need chroniclers, biographers, story tellers, song writers and painters.”
“While humans, great or otherwise, are invariably riddled with imperfections, I believe that it should not hold us back from celebrating the lives and thoughts of those who through their sacrifice, relentless hard work, their remarkable insight or innate talent have left the world richer than they found it. These, and many more great personalities and their ideas need chroniclers, biographers, story tellers, song writers and painters. And so ‘to these serving hands mine also shall belong’. ” says the artist, who has earlier won accolades for her deeply spiritual work on Buddha and the lotus flower.
Jhunjhunwala shares that a lot of research goes into creating a portrait. While she has met some of these stalwarts briefly as a child, she reads up relevant literature on others before executing a work. She especially remembers her meeting with APJ Abdul Kalam who acquired a Buddha work for the President House while in office. “Then it was meeting Kishori Amonkar that touched me deeply. She was extremely encouraging and loved the portrait I had made of hers with her mother Mogu Bai.”
Immortals is on view at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, from 1-5 October