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Jehangir Sabavala’s world was deceptively serene

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Renowned artist Jehangir Sabavala died 2nd September, 2011 Friday morning of respiratory failure. He had been suffering from lung cancer. Jehangir Sabavala invoked, in many of his landscapes, a homeland lost to historical vagaries and recoverable only in dream. It was easy for us, as viewers, to be seduced by the beauty of this imagined homeland: To lose ourselves among its windswept strands, crystalline lakes and cloud-hidden mountains. What called us back to an engagement with the anguish and uncertainty of this deceptively serene world was the figure, which, in Sabavala’s art, was often the exile crossing wastelands in quest of anchorage; the solitary pilgrim following an elusive star; or the sorcerer conjuring up new geographies of forest and stream in defiance of the brutality of circumstance.

During the last ten years, and certainly following the lifetime retrospective of his work at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai and Delhi (2005-2006), Sabavala has come to be identified with the gracious ease of success. But success had not, in fact, come easily to him. Through the 1970s, and later in the 1990s, he had been charged with being an elitist painter dedicated to romantic evocations of alternative worlds, out of touch with what some of his contemporaries were pleased to regard as the ‘real India’. Fortunately, these criticisms have been set in perspective as the strength and relevance of Sabavala’s art have become more apparent.

To paint as Sabavala did was not to be escapist, a charge routinely levelled at him during the 1970s, but to address the human predicament in a manner that dramatised the paradoxical vulnerability and resilience of the individual. It was a situation that the artist knew well. He was a member of the heroic first generation of postcolonial Indian artists, who turned their gaze, trained in the academies and ateliers of Paris, to a newly emancipated society in need of sustaining myths. These artists were prepared to commit themselves to an uncertain future because they believed that art could transfigure experience, restore a lost dimension of awareness to everyday life, and to transmit subliminal realities into the domain of consciousness.

Source: The Times of India

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Written by Breathe Arts

September 7, 2011 at 10:31 am

Posted in General

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