To commemorate mammoth contribution of Satish Gujral, his wife Kiran Gujral and daughter Raseel Gujral Ansal, have launched an initiative to take forward his artistic vision and honour his legacy.
Painter, sculptor, muralist, architect, poet, writer—Satish Gujral was truly a Renaissance man. Few artists have influenced a country’s imagination with their work like Satish Gujral influenced India with not just his sculptures or murals but also his architectural marvels such as the Belgian Embassy in New Delhi, which was selected by the international forum of architects as one of the finest buildings built in the 20th century. A foremost pioneer of Modernism in India and one of the most celebrated artists in history, Gujral passed away on the 26th of March 2020 at the age of 94, leaving behind a formidable legacy with only a few equals in the world of art.
To commemorate his mammoth contribution to the world of art, his wife Kiran Gujral and daughter Raseel Gujral Ansal, noted architect and interior designer, have launched an initiative to take forward his artistic vision and honor his legacy. An In Memoriam showcase of Gujral’s Burntwood sculpture series at the recently concluded India Art Fair has merely set the ball rolling. The grand vision is to champion meritorious attainment in the fields of arts, sports and films. “We have to use his art, firstly, to make it available for viewing by artists, students, art enthusiasts in a way that is not commercial. So, in that sense, it’s not about glorifying Satish Gujral; it’s about using the art to share a message that truly embodies who he was. Despite disability, despite whatever discrimination he faced at various stages in life, despite being monetarily challenged for a very long part of his early life, he emerged from all of that as a winner,” explains Raseel who the youngest of the artist’s three children.
The idea is not just to use Satish Gujral’s art but also to direct and connect it in the right manner. “People connect noble endeavours with seemingly disparate arenas. Say for example when we connect his artwork on sport with the sporting arena, to articulate, applaud & acknowledge merit – we are speaking with coherence and parity when we use his personal biography of searing success, to inspire and support individuals mired by challenge and discrimination. So we basically want to take my father’s art and use it as an engine and start telling these stories through his art; and consequently garner people who can then bring their pockets to these various endeavours. Now, since this is not going to happen overnight, it’s important for us to start by telling these stories,” adds Raseel.
Satish Gujral was born in Jhelum in 1925 in undivided Punjab in British India. He lost his hearing when he was just eight years old in a freak accident. “One morning he woke up, and realized that he was unable to hear anything. But he never allowed his handicap to hamper his progress; he lived in silence and created in silence. And I don’t think he could have created such masterpieces if that silence hadn’t been there,” says Raseel.
In 1939, he joined the Mayo School of Art in Lahore, after which he went on to the Sir J. J. School of Art in Mumbai where he met members of the Progressive Artists Group such as F. N. Souza, S. H. Raza and M. F. Husain. “For me the man, the father, and his image are inextricably linked. It’s only after his passing, when I now look back, I can separate the man from his creativity. I just couldn’t do that when he was alive. I can now view his incredible journey with a measure of objectivity in retrospect. To have been born at a time in history, when being physically disabled, in any manner, was a shameful and unfortunate family secret. Hence to subvert the social stigma, the child was marginalized & largely unschooled. He was fortunate that the family he came from had an extremely tough moral fibre and held progressive beliefs and diverted his nascent talent towards art.” reveals Raseel.
In 1952, Gujral received a scholarship to study at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. Gujral went to Mexico City, not knowing anyone. When he failed in his attempt to get his fellowship money released he was left stranded in an alien land but through a stroke of luck he connected with the renowned Mexican painter David Alfaro Siqueiros, who helped and introduced him to other important artists in his circle such as Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo. In Siqueiros’ house, Gujral met the likes of Fidel Castro and Pablo Neruda. Gujral gives a riveting account of his time in Mexico in his fascinating autobiography titled ‘A Brush with Life’ which is replete with escapades and misadventures.
It was in Mexico City that he started taking interest in painting murals. Later on, he went on to paint large fresco murals on the façades of many significant buildings of Lutyen’s Delhi. In fact, it was Gujral who made India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru aware about the importance of formalizing public art projects for government buildings. Gujral subsequently created murals for Gandhi Bhavan, Chandigarh and Shastri Bhavan, New Delhi. A consummate artist who was not afraid of experimenting, he excelled at architecture as well even though he was never formally trained as an architect. While his work on the Belgian Embassy in New Delhi is regularly cited among major architectural exploits; and his work on Ambedkar Memorial in Uttar Pradesh, UNESCO building in Delhi, Goa University and the summer palace for the Saudi Royal family in Riyadh are equally exemplary.
The Burntwood sculpture series that was curated by Raseel as part of an In Memoriam showcase for the India Art Fair titled ‘Art of Silence,’ which is actually from the family’s private collection, is a big first step towards the grand vision to take forward Satish Gujral’s artistic legacy. “The artworks are diverse spanning a lifetime of genres – An ‘In Memoriam’ space couldn’t hold this vast spectrum. Hence the spotlight on the rare and powerful ‘Burntwood Series’. Fortunately the wider diversity of his polymath talent was hauntingly given tribute by Gayatri Sinha at the India Art Fair. So we have dipped our toe into the shallows, starting at the India Art Fair, and now it’s about taking it to the deep end,” sums up Raseel.