By Sukant Deepak
Witnessing the trauma, sheer brutality, absolute insensitivity and degradation of human respect during Partition, when he along with his father helped people cross over to India, never left his mindscape.
So, when artist Satish Gujral, who passed away on March 26, painted the Partition, it made everyone stand up and take notice including the first Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru. His work on the division of the country may have been catapulted him to instant recognition, but for Gujral it was always important to continuously touch upon a theme, change styles and mediums. No wonder, despite criticism from some quarters, he never thought twice before working with wood, ceramics, sculptures, murals, architecture and paper collage.
Born in 1925 in Jhelum (now Pakistan), Gujral, who was awarded the Padma Vibhushan 1999, produced fantastic Burnt wood sculptures (two are at ITC Maurya, New Delhi) and showed his works across the world including cities like New York, Tokyo, Berlin and Montreal.
In the later part of his life, he was almost equally known for his architecture. In fact, the Belgium Embassy New Delhi, designed by him was selected by the International Forum of Architects as one of the finest buildings built in the 20th century. Despite suffering from hearing impairment, he attended the Mayo School of Art. It was only at the age of 72 that he got an implant that gave him the ability to hear, but removed it at 78.
While many documentaries have been made on the life of the artist, a full-length feature film is also in the works. Gujral was much influenced by Mexican artists Diego Rivera and David Siqueros under whom he studied when he received a scholarship to study at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico.
Speaking to IANS, artist Gogi Saroj Pal, who met him frequently says she closely watched his work and how he evolved and changed mediums effortlessly. “However, what is most important is the fact that he never paused, and made it a point to work consistently. His contribution is immense. In fact, when I had gone to Pakistan decades back, people knew about him and his father who was an extremely rich man there before 1947.”
Calling him the pride of Punjab, photographer and Chairperson of Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi, Diwan Manna says that unlike most of his contemporaries he did not go to Europe to study and developed his own visual vocabulary, sticking it till the very end. Not following the Progressives, he charted his own course and belonged to the generation that was totally committed to its art.” Remembering that in his personal life, he would not just be with painters, but shared a great rapport with writers and theatre persons, Manna adds, “One could see him frequently with Balwant Gargi and Padma Sachdev.”
“Always in the limelight and definitely better known than his former PM brother, IK Gujral, he managed to achieve a lot despite his disability. I like his early work, which had a certain punch to it,” says artist Inder Salim.
Expressing his sadness on Gujral’s passing away, Prime Minister Modi wrote on Twitter, “Satish Gujral Ji was versatile and multifaceted. He was admired for his creativity as well as the determination with which he overcame adversity. His intellectual thirst took him far and wide yet he remained attached to his roots. Saddened by his demise. Om Shanti.” (Source: IANSlife)