Rare retrospective of a Kashmiri artist in capital

January 6th, 2012 - 4:34 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 6 (IANS) A retrospective exhibition of late Kashmiri artist Ghulam Rasool Santosh, who was one of the earliest Muslim artists to interpret Hindu Shaivite symbols and tantrik motifs on the canvas, has brought to the capital 125 of his rare spiritual works.

Santosh was one of the earliest pioneers to put religious sensibilities aside for artistic inspiration — a trend later emulated by S.H. Raza and Sohan Qadri, Muslim artists who were also inspired by Hindu spirituality.

“Santosh had a mystical experience at the Amarnath caves in 1964 after which he began to research Kashmiri Shaivism and tantra mysticism. The Shiva-Shakti symbol dominated his work,” art critic and writer Kishor Singh, the head of the publication and exhibition wing of the Delhi Art Gallery, told IANS.

Santosh’s art is known for its precision shapes, religious symbols, tantrik icons and a colourful palette. The artist was influenced by cubism, impressionism and later by the Vadodara-painter N.S. Bendre under whom he trained in art.

The exhibition of his works was inaugurated at the Delhi Art Gallery by president of Indian Council for Cultural Relations Karan Singh Wednesday. Singh said this was the first exhibition of Santosh in the capital.

A book on the artist, who died of a heart attack in 1977, was also released as a tribute. The book contains scholarly essays, photographs of his paintings, rare archival material and his poetry.

Santosh’s personal life reflected his open outlook to religion. “He married a Hindu amid family opposition and later took his wife’s name Santosh to negate the concept of conflicting faiths,” Singh said.

The works, which are rare, have been acquired from Santosh’s family and from a collection in New York, Singh said.

“We have covered his entire life - from 1950 to 1977 till his death. He is one of the earliest pioneers of the tantrik art who began painting spiritual themes in the late 1960s before Raza began to draw “bindu” in the 1970s. He gave the traditional Shaivite icons contemporary interpretations on his canvas. Islam or Hinduism was not a part of his thinking,” Singh said.

His early life was chequered. After completing his matriculation in 1945, Santosh took up several odd jobs like signboard painting, silk weaving and white washing walls to support himself. Gradually, he honed his skill as a papier mache artist.

In 1950, Santosh joined the Progressive Arts Association in Kashmir, an attempt by S.H. Raza to mobilise Kashmiri painters. Four years later, he went to Vadodara on a scholarship to study art.

In his early years, Santosh was influenced by the mysticism of the Kashmir valley which was manifested in semi-abstract and cubist forms on his canvas. A visit to the Amarnath cave in 1964 changed Santosh’s life after which he began to combine the male and female forms to draw a pure image of the human form, leaving out the face, hands and feet.

The exhibition closes Jan 21.

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