A special retrospective of the renowned artist Sakti Burman is currently on view at Mumbai’s National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). Titled In the Presence of Another Sky, the exhibition is supported by Art Musings Gallery, Mumbai, and showcases some of the highlights of Burman’s oeuvre that spans some six decades.
Burman, whose work is resplendent with folklore, mythologies and legends, derives great inspiration and stylistic blueprints from frescoes. The artist meticulously creates the scraping effect, often seen on the frescoes of the West, as well as on the Ajanta murals in India. He intermeshes this influence with his other preferred techniques of pointillism and marbling.
Burman, who relocated to Paris in the mid-1950s, has been felicitated with many honours in the course of his distinguished career. The long list of achievements includes the Prix des Étrangers by École des Beaux-Arts, Paris; the Medaille Arts, Science et Lettres, Paris; the Medaille d’Argent de Montmorency; the Medaille d’Or, Salon des Artistes Français, Grand Palais, Paris; and the Prix de la Ville de l’Isle-Adam, France. Also, last year, the Government of France had conferred on him the country’s highest civilian honour, the knighthood of the Légion d’honneur.
The 84-year-old artist recently spoke to Guardian 20 about his ongoing show. “It’s an honour and privilege to be showing my works at the NGMA. It has been several years since I have seen some of these works, after they last left my studio, as a lot of collectors have loaned these paintings for display. It is interesting to see the entire graph of my artistic journey. I am deeply appreciative of the complete and unstinting support that my gallery, Art Musings and Ranjit Hoskote have given to this project.”
Ranjit Hoskote is the curator of the present show. He has carefully divided Burman’s oeuvre into eight different categories: these are, “A Confluential Imagination”; “Travel as Education”; “The Mark of the Burin: The Sweep of the Roller”; “The Inspirations of Architecture”; “Colore and Disegno”; “The Storyteller’s Dreams”; “A Dance to the Music of Mythology”; and “The Studio Without Walls”. Hoskote views Burman’s art in relation to the artist’s affinities with multiple reference points, ranging from the Pompeii murals to Jean Dubuffet, from illuminated manuscripts to miniature art. This exhibition aims to map Burman’s work across the diverse engagements the artist has had during his career. As is now well-known, Burman has worked with multiple forms, including engraving, drawing, sculpture, and painting in a number of media.
Besides, the exhibition sheds light on the role travel—and the artist’s encounters with varied cultures—has played in shaping Burman’s art and his world-view. The retrospective opens a doorway to the artist’s consciousness by depicting the plural legacies of the School of Paris, World War II, Partition and Independence, the Cold War, globalisation, and the post-globalisation world of simultaneously expanded and embattled possibilities.
Burman, whose work is resplendent with folklore, mythologies and legends, derives great inspiration and stylistic blueprints from frescoes.
Hoskote said, “In the poet Walt Whitman’s memorable phrase, invented to describe an individual who inherits diverse histories and temperaments while extending himself imaginatively in plural directions, Burman ‘contains multitudes’. In their elegant fusion of time horizons, Burman’s works remind us that the global contemporary is, above all, a time and place of complex allegiances. We are all entangled in multiple definitions of self, linked by heredity, affinity and choice to various sources of cultural meaning. In such a situation, the artist cannot be pinned down to a specific, narrowly regional definition of selfhood. The artist’s imagination is a receiving and transmitting station, and signals come to it from every quarter; the artist’s project is to sift through these, in order to process the code into fresh and ever-renewed manifestations of his understanding of his life world.”
Burman was born in Calcutta in 1935, and spent his childhood in Bidyakut (now in Bangladesh) and in Dibrugarh. He has had a strong kinship with Bengali culture. In 1993, Burman produced a number of lithograph illustrations for the leading French publisher Éditions Gallimard to alongside a French translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali,. This book was translated by the legendary writer André Gide, who, like Tagore, was a Nobel laureate.
The exhibition contains 275 works by the artist, ranging from the 1950s to the present day. Shivaprasad Khened, Director, NGMA, said: “On the 70th anniversary of India’s Independence, it is a privilege and honour for the NGMA Mumbai to be hosting an exhibition of an artist who was witness to India’s Independence. This exhibition, In the Presence of Another Sky: Sakti Burman, A Retrospective, is a tribute to all those who were witness to India’s historic Independence and to the most unfortunate trauma that followed during the partition of the country into two nations, when millions of migrants crossed the divided nations of India and East Pakistan.”
The show is on view till 26 November at NGMA, Mumbai