Artist Manu Parekh’s 20-year love affair with Varanasi

November 9th, 2008 - 1:19 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 9 (IANS) Veteran modern artist Manu Parekh is one of the few old-timers whose style and artistic content have remained unchanged over the years despite the changing socio-political circumstances around him. What has also not changed is his love for the Hindu holy city of Varanasi (Benares). “My work has not changed with time, I am still working on the ‘Benares Series’ - the one which I started 20 years ago. I am carrying it forward. The spiritual ambience of the town moves me. It is full of religious and cultural nuances,” Parekh told IANS at an exhibition of art, Janus, presented by Chivas Art and ATI Gallery here.

His canvas on display at Janus was titled “Benares” - an oil painting on canvas in brilliant shades of blue depicting the fusion of faiths in two shadowy silhouettes of temples on a riverbank in the city.

Benares has always held Parekh in thrall ever since he visited the city in 1979. Over the next half-a-decade, he kept returning to pilgrimage Benares and produced a series of paintings capturing the city - its bathing ghats, funeral pyres, the busy by-lanes, the boatman on the Ganga and the night lights of the shrines dotting the river banks.

“Even for my next show, I am mapping faith. When I talk of faith, I mean every faith. I have visited almost all pilgrimage centres around the world - Jerusalem, Vatican City, Ajmer, a city that I love a lot… The journeys have helped me understand world religion better,” Parekh said.

The artist, who was born in Ahmedabad in 1939 and studied in the J.J. School of Art in Mumbai, feels India is an artist’s delight because of its “cultural diversity”.

“The country is full of different kinds of culture and colour. It all seeps into my work, along with faith, which is the essence of my art,” said Parekh, who is preparing for his next major solo exhibition in Mumbai in February.

Rated as one of the best in his generation, Parekh feels that the new generation of contemporary artists have been able to stand their ground independently in the ring.

“It feels great that the new generation of contemporary artists are so fresh and original in their ideas. Their work is not an apology in terms of quality,” he said.

Parekh started as a stage actor and stage designer in Mumbai after graduating from J.J. School of Art. From theatre, he veered to textiles and joined the Weavers’ Service Centre, Mumbai, in 1963 as an art designer.

After two years, he moved to Kolkata and lived there till 1974 - till his appointment as a design consultant by the Handicrafts and Handloom Corporation of India in the capital.

“I still love to travel to the villages where I worked as consultant for the Handicrafts and Handloom Corporation of India. The rural crafts of India are wonderful and I think the way indigenous people craft their traditions - especially the women - is a celebration of life. I have worked with Pupul Jayakar for 25 years,” Parekh said.

However, he says rural lifestyles do not influence his work. “I am glued to faith.”

His work, which early on in his career showed man in his elemental and degraded surroundings, always fell back on religious symbols for answers. And Benares still remains his signature.

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